19 June 1998

Speed up reform of CAP, says EU

EUROPEAN farm ministers have been told to "intensify their efforts" in reforming the Common Agricultural Policy, and been given just nine more months to reach an agreement.

Until now, there was no clear timetable for the reforms. But, meeting in Cardiff earlier this week, EU leaders said Agenda 2000 should be wrapped up before next years European Parliament elections.

"Substantial progress should be made at the Vienna European Council (in December)…so that political agreement can be reached on the package as a whole no later than March 1999," they said.

Observers say this is achievable, but optimistic. "If it was just agriculture on the table, this would be a very tall order given the deep divides between farm ministers," said one UK government source in Brussels.

"But Agenda 2000 also covers the future financing of the EU. Existing arrangements run out next year and there is real pressure to get this sorted out before the European elections next June."