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Member of the European Commission, responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries

Enlargement and Rural development

Information Seminar on post accession rural development measures

Brussels, 19 March 2003

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have taken the personal initiative to organize this information Seminar and it is, of course, a great pleasure for me to open this conference.

The Copenhagen European Council has changed the face of Europe. It has laid a new basis for the life of the present and future generations in Europe. In fact, an old European dream is now within reach: peace, security and equal chances for the nations of this continent shaping their future united under a common roof.

The final deal that has been agreed upon at Copenhagen for agriculture and enlargement is a fair and balanced package that will greatly improve the prospects for many of the farmers in the new member states and will enable them to make better use of their agricultural potential.

In particular, the final agriculture package foresees a very important support for the necessary restructuring process in the rural areas of each of the acceding countries. Reinforced EU rural development programmes, together with structural support, will offer considerable opportunities for farmers in the new member states to improve their efficiency and diversify their income sources. It also takes full account of the enormous diversity that exists in the rural and agricultural sectors of each country and allows for tailored and targeted support depending on specific needs.

Nevertheless, I would like to add that preparations for membership have not yet been completed. Neither in the Union, nor in the acceding countries. This work must continue this year with vigour. We must show that the Accession Treaty is a good one.

Let me now come to the SAPARD programme, which has proven to be a successful tool to prepare the ground for rural development policy in our future member states and to prepare the ground for their successful accession to the European Union.

The invaluable experience of SAPARD in the pre-accession period will facilitate the implementation of the post accession rural development instruments. As countries have put in place the necessary procedures and the farmers and administrators have gotten used to them, there should not be substantial difficulties with absorbing the EU funds for rural development.

Very real progress has been made to date with SAPARD. However to help ensure that there is good absorption of funds under that instrument already in 2003, more needs to be achieved. This I recognise is a far more difficult task for any Candidate Country of Central and Eastern Europe than for any Member State.

I want to see SAPARD working really well in all countries including by enhanced budget uptake. This is an issue where I intend shortly to send letters to Ministers in all beneficiary countries. In it I will press home this point and emphasise the willingness of the Commission to help to the full extent of its powers within, of course, the limits of sound financial management.

That said, the SAPARD instrument plays an important role in setting up the necessary administrative structures and in helping to train staff through practical experience.

The process leading up to adoption of the SAPARD programmes is virtually the same as for Member States. Their content is based on a menu of measures which is similar to that available to Member States, although the range under SAPARD is somewhat narrower.

The way Community financial resources are granted to beneficiary countries under SAPARD is quite similar to the way that Structural Funds are released to Member States.

What has been set up for SAPARD will however be valid, with some adjustments, for managing and controlling the Community financial instruments. For the measures where experience is not possible under SAPARD rural development administrations will at least have competent staff working in established structures to deal with them.

How may the SAPARD instrument fit in with the financial arrangements for agricultural and rural structural measures in new Member States, after accession? The answer is to be found in the Guidelines elaborated by my services.

You will have during these two days a detailed presentation of these Guidelines for the switch from SAPARD to post-accession rural development instruments which will serve as a basis for our exchange of views.

This Guide is intended to help your administrations in the elaboration of their Rural Development Programmes for the period 2004-2006. With the organization of this Seminar we want to assist you in implementing the second pillar. You are the key actors in this field. The quality of the rural development measures and coherence and efficiency of the programme will depend very much on your input; We are partners in the implementation of this policy and this policy dialogue can help us identify ways of best meeting your needs. This dialogue enables us to agree on joint objectives and on implementation principles.

On signature of the Accession Treaties, the new Member States will have observer status in the relevant Council formations and Commission committees.

In this context, the Commission will bring forward proposals for any specific adaptations of the negotiating results necessary as a result of the discussions on CAP reform. These will be agreed under the procedures foreseen in the Accession Treaty.

It would be premature to prejudge the discussions by Member States and acceding countries on the adaptation of the current legal proposals in the new Member States. Nevertheless I would like to stress that such adaptations will need to be fair and balanced, respecting both the negotiating results as well as their underlying principles.

To come back to this meeting, I think that it has a very valuable part to play in the large and ambitious project of making rural development policy a success in the enlarged Europe which has implications for many millions of people living in rural areas. Part of the success of this enlargement will rest in your capacity to conceive coherent rural development strategies by making the best use of Community instruments.

I do hope that you will have with my services a fruitful exchange of views on the necessary administrative, financial and programming adaptations to introduce and on the newly available rural development measures.

This meeting will provide a unique opportunity, in a general discussion involving all acceding countries and current Member States, to clarify certain aspects of the implementation of the rural development acquis, and to support the preparation efforts of your administrative bodies for future EU-funded rural development programmes.

Thank you for your attention and enjoy this Seminar.

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