24 March 2000

Brussels balks at school milk cuts

EU Commission plans to cut spending on school milk met stiff opposition at this weeks farm council in Brussels.

Under the proposal, member states would have to meet half the cost of subsidies themselves, whereas currently 95% of expenditure comes from Brussels.

This would result in the cost to the commission falling from £91m to just £48m, but total spending on the scheme would increase to £96m.

This was not part of the budgetary agreement reached in Berlin last year, they said, and it would set a dangerous precedent if accepted, farm ministers said.

EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, pointed out that the burden would not necessarily fall on national governments, as the regulation allowed for contributions from the dairy trade and farmers.

But only five member states – Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Luxembourg and Greece – supported his plans.

The new scheme was due to take effect from April 1. But ministers agreed to roll over the existing arrangement until Sept 1, the start of the new school year. Meanwhile, they will study alternatives, including the possibility of optional co-financing.

Currently, some 5m school children in the EU enjoy a quarter pint of subsidised milk a day.