EU chief dashes sheep aid hopes
HOPES of additional aid for sheep producers have been dashed by EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler, despite pleas by Irish and British ministers in Brussels this week.
Irish agriculture minister Joe Walsh led the calls for immediate assistance, suggesting those farming in areas which had seen sustained prices below the EU average should get compensation. He also called for the dismantling of the sheepmeat stabiliser, which has knocked 7% off ewe premium since the early 1990s.
His comments to the farm council followed a meeting with the Irish Farmers Association, which pointed out that sheep prices had fallen by £8-£10 this season, yet the ewe premium was practically unchanged, due to high values in southern Europe. Ending the stabiliser would add another £4.35/ewe, they said.
UK farm minister Nick Brown lent his support by calling for a longer-term reform of the sheepmeat regime.
But Mr Fischler was adamant that the stabiliser would not be changed and pointed out that poor sheep prices this year were due to oversupply following good returns in 1996 and 1997.
He added that private storage aid had helped the market since it opened last month, while the less favoured area supplement provided additional help for those in more difficult regions. Furthermore, there was no more money available in the budget for extra aid.
Mr Fischler did explain that a review of the sheepmeat regime was currently underway and this would be completed sometime next year.
• Several member states, led by France, called for supplementary aid for pig producers, in particular the reinstatement of a special export restitution for sales to Russia. But again the commission declined to help out.
The 3% price fall since September was largely seasonal, it claimed, and the expectation was for an EU-wide recovery in the run-up to Christmas and on into January and February.