EU agriculture ministers have expressed their determination to reach a deal on sugar reform this week, however long it takes.
Following a first discussion by the 25 ministers on the latest compromise paper on Tuesday evening (22 November) in Brussels, EU farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said that a “large majority” were committed to the task.
The latest package seeks to keep the cut for raw sugar at 39%, but to spread it over four years instead of two.
It also increases the amount of money flowing into the restructuring fund to encourage factories to close down, and gives them the flexibility to just reduce rather than terminate sugar production.
A council spokesman said after the first table round that the extent of the price cut and the level of compensation to growers (60%) were the main points of contention.
The Hungarians, for example, had indicated that a 30% price cut was the most that they could stomach. The Polish delegation also took a tougher line than expected, following the recent change of government.
But other member states said that they would only accept the four year phase-in if the price cut was kept at 39%. “It’s not all downward pressure on the price cut,” said one source close to the discussions.
Other points of contention included the level of the intervention safety net, proposed at 75% of the following year’s reference price, and the safeguards in case imports from less developed countries get out of hand.
Following the first round table, the EU Commission and UK presidency are now holding a series of one-to-ones with each member state – a process that is due to continue until Wednesday evening (23 November).
The Council will then reconvene, the UK presidency will present a new compromise and ministers will then work through the night in pursuit of a final deal.
“It will be difficult,” Mrs Fischer Boel told journalists on Tuesday evening. “There are different opinions and we will have to work hard for the next 24 hours, 48 hours, however long it takes.”
But both she and UK minister Margaret Becket were both willing to stay to the very end.