EU FARM ministers will meet in Brussels on Monday (Jul 18) for their first substantive discussions on the commission’s plans to reform the sugar regime, involving deep price cuts and a voluntary restructuring scheme.
There they will be confronted by around 4000 producers from 21 member states, including up to 100 British growers, in a demonstration organised by the International Confederation of European Beet Growers (CIBE).
“We’re going to help raise the profile of the threats confronting our industry and as a show of solidarity with all the other beet growers in Europe,” said NFU sugar vice-chairman Nick Wells. “The price cuts suggested are draconian and would cripple beet growing in this country.”
But ahead of the demonstration and farm council, there were signs in Brussels this week that member states were softening their opposition to the commission’s reform plans.
While a hard core of five countries – Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Finland – continued to resist the cuts and demand that sugar beet production should be maintained in all regions, another ten member states, including the UK, France and Germany, said the commission’s proposals were fine.
In between was a range of countries like Austria and Cyprus who said the thrust of the proposals was right, though the price cuts went too far, while the compensation was inadequate. Others, such as Poland and Italy were more reluctant.
“The feeling in Brussels is pretty positive,” said one source close to the discussions. “We have a minority of countries who oppose the reform plans, but whether they have enough votes to block the proposal is not clear.
“That will depend on how certain key countries, such as Poland and Italy vote, though they may be bought off with bounties. At technical level there has been some movement towards the commission proposal, though what happens at the political level could be very different.”
Next week’s debate is intended to give the UK presidency and the commission guidance as to how they might need to change the proposal to secure an agreement, intended for November.
The commission was prepared to be flexible on most aspects of the reform except price, the source added.
* FARMERS WEEKLY will be joining the CIBE rally in Brussels on Monday and the subsequent farm council. See FWi for a report on both events.