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IP/01/861

Brussels, 19 June 2001

Pre-accession farm aid: Go-ahead for 12.1 million Euro payments to Estonia

The European Commission has given the go-ahead to the Estonian authorities to take over the management of €12.1 million in aid to help farmers adjust to the challenges of EU membership. Estonia will now be able to begin the implementation of this so-called "SAPARD" programme. Today's decisions covers measures to boost investment in agricultural holdings, to improve the processing and marketing of agricultural and fisheries products, to development and diversify agricultural activities and the improvement of rural infrastructure. Under the scheme, Estonia will be entitled to €12.137 million annually. Payment of the first advance can now be made. Estonia is the second candidate country to begin implementing the SAPARD aid programme.

On a visit to Estonia on 17-18 June, Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, welcomed this advance and said : "All Estonians have good reason to feel proud today as they take not just a step but rather a stride towards membership of the European Union." Commenting on the decision, Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries said: "I am glad that Estonia has succeeded in setting up the necessary structures to manage these funds according to the demanding EU standards. The considerable efforts made are an investment which will pay off once Estonia is part of the EU. I hope that the other candidate countries will be able to follow suit soon. It is their efforts which determine when EU money can start flowing."

Why was the Commission decision necessary?

In order to receive the SAPARD funds, applicant countries must demonstrate that they can meet demanding standards of financial management and control. The key step on this path is to have the national SAPARD fund management agency accredited. To this end, Estonia has concluded their national accreditation work, which was accepted in the form of an Act of Accreditation by the Competent Estonian Authority. The Estonian authorities notified the Commission of this accreditation work and a complete package of information was sent to the Commission. The Commission examined, in Brussels, the basis for the national accreditation, obtaining supplementary information and clarification and carried out an on the spot inspection as part of a detailed audit.

The Community rules for external aid such as SAPARD do not normally allow project selection, tendering and contracting to be undertaken by the applicant countries without ex-ante approval by the Commission.

Benefits of decentralised management

By decentralising management to a candidate country, SAPARD gives a future member an opportunity to gain valuable experience in applying the mechanisms for Community funds, as well as obtaining the benefits of a rural development programme. On a broader front, the investment in this new Agency will build skills that will be readily transferable to the management of other Community funds. Implementation of the SAPARD scheme is therefore of major significance to each of the candidate countries.

This decision covers four key measures in the Rural Development Programme. A subsequent decision conferring management will be necessary once the remaining measures are ready for implementation.

What is the state of play in the other applicant countries?

At present, Bulgaria is the only other country for which management of SAPARD funds has been conferred. However, several other applicant countries are in the process of finalising their procedures and structures.

Background

The Special Accession Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (SAPARD), provided for in Council Regulation EC No. 1268/1999, aims to support the efforts made by the Central and Eastern European applicant countries as they prepare for their participation in the Common Agricultural Policy and the Single Market. It has two major objectives: first, to implement the "acquis"; second, to solve priority problems in the field of agriculture and rural development.

Annual indicative budget allocations (in € million, at constant 2000 prices)

Bulgaria

CzechEstoniaHungaryLithuaniaLatviaPolandRomaniaSloveniaSlovakiaTotal
53.02622.44512.34738.71330.34522.226171.603153.2436.44718.606529

Following the adoption of Estonia's agricultural and rural development plan by the Commission on the 17 November 2000, the Multi-Annual Financing Agreement between the Commission and Estonia was signed on 25 January 2001. The Estonian National Parliament ratified this Agreement on 18 April 2001. The Agreement was published in the Estonian Official Bulletin on 7 May 2001 and came into force for the Republic of Estonia on 8 May 2001. This agreement lays down the Community management and control rules for SAPARD for the whole programming period (2000-2006) and includes the principle of full decentralisation of programme management to an agency established under the responsibility of the applicant country. The Annual Financing Agreement between the Commission and Estonia for the 2000 allocation of €12.137 million was signed on 1 March 2001 whereby all necessary formalities for its conclusion were completed.


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