10 January 2000
Unions demand 450m from Brussels

By Johann Tasker

FARMERS leaders have joined forces in a bid to secure 450 million from the European Union to compensate for a reduction in farm subsidies.

The money is being claimed by the countrys four biggest farm unions under a joint initiative launched in London on Monday (10 January).

They have calculated that 450m is available from Brussels as agrimonetary compensation to offset the strong pound which has devalued farm subsidies.

European rules enable farmers to be compensated if the value of subsidies calculated in Euros are devalued when converted into national currencies.

The strong Pound means that about 450m in compensation is expected to be available to British farmers during 2000, claims the National Farmers Union.

Beef farmers alone claim their sector has seen a 12% drop in Euro-based support payments over the past year, according to the National Beef Association.

It says a further 33% reduction is expected over the next 12 months before a significant proportion of that aid disappears altogether in 2002.

But agrimonetary compensation is only likely if farmers can persuade the British government to apply for the money directly from Brussels.

The battle of wits will be tough, mainly because of the complicated EU rebate system which Britain signed up to under the Fontainebleau Agreement.

The agreement means that Chancellor Gordon Brown would have to fund about 80% of any money paid out by Brussels as aid for British farmers.

Some commentators believe it is unlikely he will part easily with more money after agreeing last month to boost environmental payments for farmers.

The Labour government has proved reluctant to apply for agrimonetary compensation ever since the Labour government was elected in May 1997.

Former agriculture minister Jack Cunningham refused to apply for aid which would have totalled 960m, saying there was “no pot of gold in Brussels.”