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Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture and Rural
Press conference on the Commission proposal to expand food programme for the
most deprived persons in the European Union
The recent hike in food prices has hit every one of us, in particular the most underprivileged members of our society.
The Commission is determined to take concrete action to help people deal with the situation.
In July, we proposed a special fund of €1 billion to help developing country farmers increase output.
Today we take a major step towards helping the most deprived people in Europe itself.
The food distribution programme for Europe's needy has already helped millions of Europeans since it was established in 1987.
In 2006 alone, 13 million people in 19 EU member states benefited from this aid scheme.
In 2008, with the recent sharp increase in food prices and the number of people in need, I think we can do even better.
The fact is that 43 million EU citizens cannot afford a meal with meat, chicken or fish every second day.
We cannot resolve all food poverty in the EU.
But we can make a significant contribution.
Experience shows that the EU programme has a strong leverage effect.
When we provide food aid, this leads to new and reinforced private and public aid schemes.
And this fits in nicely with other EU initiatives on public health and social assistance.
Today's proposal would:
- increase the budget for the scheme;
- widen the range of products which can be provided;
- and make it easier to source food for the needy from the open market.
This is a concrete example of how the European Union can give real tangible help to some of the least fortunate people in our society.
The scheme was originally designed to use surplus stocks of food.
In the mid-1990s, we amended it to allow food to be bought from the market in certain circumstances.
Now, thanks in part to our reforms, surpluses are a thing of the past.
So we are now proposing to allow food to be bought from the open market on a permanent basis.
We are ending restrictions on what sort of products qualify for the programme.
And we are proposing to increase the budget by two thirds from 2009 to €500 million per year.
This is partly because food is now more expensive than it was and partly because we want to widen the reach of this programme.
How will it work in practice?
Member States who want to take part will request food aid based on a three-year programme.
They will select suitable organisations to run the programme – usually charities or local social services.
The Member States must then ensure the supply of food to the organisations in charge.
Where possible, the food will come from intervention stocks.
But mostly, it will be bought on the market through public calls for tender.
Decisions on targeting the aid and what food to provide will be for the national authorities.
From 2010, co-financing will be phased in.
Initially, EU financing would be 75 percent (and 85 percent in Cohesion regions).
As from the 2013/15 plan, EU co-financing would be 50 percent and 75 percent in Cohesion zones.
Of course, co-financing generates more money.
But it will also ensure more engagement on the ground and strengthen the cohesive element of the scheme, because EU funding will be higher in less prosperous regions.
I am certain that this scheme will help millions of Europeans deal with the fall-out from higher food prices.
I hope the Council will give it its blessing.