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Franz Fischler in Estonia: "Look at the whole package to discover the positives"

European Commission - IP/02/1335   18/09/2002

Other available languages: FR DE

IP/02/1335

Tallinn, 18 September 2002

Franz Fischler in Estonia: "Look at the whole package to discover the positives"

"It is short-sighted to judge the agriculture proposal for Estonia only on direct payments. If you want to buy a house, you will want to see the living and the kitchen room, and not only the hallway. I can only urge you look at the package in its entirety - and the picture will change completely. The Commission made clear that after accession, Estonia will receive special support for their rural areas. Most importantly, Estonia will get more means for rural development than is the case in the existing EU member states. But the EU will also take over a higher share of the overall project costs, namely 80%. Finally, we propose a new measure from which Estonia will particularly benefit. Semi-subsistence farmers who can present a concept for the future of their farms will receive a payment of up to € 750 per year. The Commission has set out a fair proposal, which is tailor-made to support the restructuring process in Estonia. It is designed to guarantee an optimal integration of the Estonian farming sector into the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). I am fully aware that there are concerns in the Estonian farm community. And these concerns have to be addressed. Not with propaganda, but with arguments and facts. And it is a matter of fact, that Estonian agriculture will be better off in the EU than staying out.", said Franz Fischler, EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries during his official visit in Estonia.

"Let's face it. There is no way around restructuring and modernisation, with or without the EU. The big difference is that as an EU member Estonia can count on millions of support to help farmers who want to modernise their farms, to support the countryside and create jobs for those who want to leave agriculture. The Commission will do its utmost that the negotiations could be concluded at the Copenhagen Summit on 12 December. To achieve this, we have to be realistic. The room of manoeuvre for compromises in the negotiation package is limited. Certain member states are reluctant to pay direct payments at all and the EU budget is tight. I do see limited flexibility for the setting of quotas and other supply management instruments - but only on the basis of solid arguments. I fully recognise the huge efforts Estonia has already made. But more has to be done to to align and implement the mechanisms and instruments of the CAP", he stressed.

"Restructuring of the Estonian agriculture is necessary. But we have also to live up to our social responsibility to prevent the abandonment of the Estonian countryside, desertification and unemployment. We will give money to farmers for the necessary investments in the modernisation of their farms. We will support the improvement of the infrastructure. We will contribute to early retirement schemes for farmers. Education facilities have to be built and will be supported as well.

We will give money for the renovation of villages. And we will support the creation of alternative sources of income in sectors such as tourism, services and crafts", Fischler went on.

Commenting on the pre-accession programme SAPARD, Fischler called Estonia "a pioneer candidate country" for the implementation of the SAPARD scheme. "The programme was implemented in June 2001 and is running at cruise speed. For 2002 EU funds up to the amount of €12.3 million are allocated. I know that there are concerns about the complexity of the system. But one should not forget that the SAPARD funds are taxpayers' money. We all have to take care that it is properly spent. If money is used incorrectly, it has to be claimed back later. This would clearly be in nobody's interest. In addition, the experience gained under SAPARD will be extremely useful for an immediate and efficient implementation of the EU's rural development policy after accession.", he maintained.

The Commissioner underlined that the first round of the agricultural trade liberalisation negotiations between Estonia and the EU showed very encouraging results. "EU imports of Estonia's most important export product dairy have exploded, with an increase of 135% during the first year of the implementation of the agreement. A second extensive agreement to further liberalise the agriculture trade entered into force on 1 July 2002. These agreements will further enlarge the scope of the agricultural trade. They are a key factor in preparing for a single market without trade barriers and to avoid a "big bang" at the day of Estonia's EU accession.", Fischler stressed.

Turning to fisheries, Mr Fischler said that the Accession negotiations on fisheries had been concluded but that it was now time to settle the outstanding technical issues regarding quota allocation for Estonia. He reiterated the Commission's opposition to the setting of autonomous quotas which, he warned, might have a severe negative effect on the fish stocks and undermine the efforts of the International Baltic Sea Fisheries Commission (IBSFC) at achieving sustainable fisheries. He also stressed that Estonia needed to strengthen its administrative capacity to implement the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy. "Let's work together to agree on allocation keys for Estonia and to ensure sustainable fisheries for the benefit of all concerned.", Mr Fischler said.

Background

    The Commission proposal on agriculture and enlargement

    On 30 January 2002, the European Commission set out its strategy for dealing with the EU's enlargement negotiations on agriculture: direct payments to farmers and the level of production quotas for the new member countries once they join the EU in 2004. To ease the problems of transition in rural areas, and to encourage the necessary restructuring of the new member states' agricultural sectors, the Commission proposes to beef up financial support through an enhanced rural development policy.

    Given that immediate introduction of 100% direct payments would serve to freeze existing structures and to hamper modernisation, the Commission favours a gradual introduction of direct payments over a transition period of ten years: for 2004, 2005, 2006 direct payments equivalent to 25,30,35%, reaching 100% in 2013. According to the proposal, this aid could also be topped up with national funds.

    The new member states would however have full and immediate access to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) market measures, such as cereal intervention.

    In order to ensure simplicity and to ensure adequate controls from the first day, the Commission has proposed a simplified direct payments system for the first three years, with the option of a prolongation for two more years. The new member states should have the option of granting direct payments in the form of an area payment, de-coupled from production and paid per hectare.

    The Commission also proposes to determine production quotas for sugar and milk essentially on the basis of average production over the years 1995 to 1999.

    More information on the Commission's enlargement proposal is available on the Internet at:

    http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/external/enlarge/index_en.htm

    Commission proposals for the CAP mid-term review

    On 10 July, the European Commission has tabled a mid-term review (MTR) of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The Commission is of the opinion that public expenditure for the farm sector must be better justified. Besides supporting farming incomes, it must yield more in return regarding food quality, the preservation of the environment and animal welfare, landscapes, cultural heritage, or enhancing social balance and equity. This review will free farmers from red tape, encouraging them to produce at high standards for the highest market return, rather than for the sake of the maximum possible subsidy. For European consumers and taxpayers, the review will ensure better value for money.

    To achieve those goals, the Commission proposes 1) to cut the link between production and direct payments, 2) to make those payments conditional to environmental, food safety, animal welfare and occupational safety standards, 3) to substantially increase EU support for rural development via a modulation of direct payments with the exemption of small farmers, 4) to introduce a new farm audit system, 5) new rural development measures to boost quality production, food safety, animal welfare and to cover the costs of the farm audit. As to the market policy, which remains an essential pillar of the CAP, the Commission proposes 1) to bring to a close the process of cereal reforms, notably with a final 5% cut in the intervention price and a new border protection system, 2) a decrease in the additional durum payment accompanied by a new quality premium, 3) a compensated decrease in the rice intervention price and 4) adjustments in the dried fodder, protein crop and nuts sectors. The proposals fully respect the objectives policy direction and financial framework for the CAP set in Agenda 2000.

    More information on the MTR is available on the Internet at:

    http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/mtr/index_en.htm


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