Sort out funding to stop development plan delays

The next generation of rural development plans is in danger of being delayed, unless heads of state sort out their differences over the next EU budget.

Addressing this week’s Agra-Informa Rural Development conference in London, senior EU Commission official Nikiforos Sivenas said the plan was to have the legal framework in place by early 2006, with national plans approved for implementation by the year end.

But the outstanding question was how much cash there would be for rural development in the 2007 to 2013 funding period.

The EU Commission had proposed 89bn (61bn), but negotiations were revolving around the 75bn (51bn) mark.

The later a decision on funding was taken, the more difficult it would be to get a smooth implementation of the programmes, said Mr Sivenas.

He likened the situation to Agenda 2000, when heads of state were four months late in fixing a budget, which meant national rural development plans could not be approved until 2001 or even 2002.

UK rural affairs minister Jim Knight said that, whatever final budget for rural development emerged, it was essential there was a fair allocation among member states, “preferably on the basis of objective criteria and need, rather than historical shares”.

But he also emphasised the need for a review of the way funds are spent on agriculture before the end of the next funding period, so as to deliver better value for money.

“A key element to this is ensuring a continued move of funds from the first pillar of market support to the second pillar of rural development,” he told the conference.

Mr Knight added that he was “passionate about using public money for public goods”.

With only 6% of the rural population in England actively employed in farming, less should be spent on direct payments, he said.

President of the European Landowners’ Organisation Mark Thomasin-Foster agreed that the countryside had to provide society with much more than commodity food production.

But this could not be achieved by market forces.

Farmers needed proper incentives and greater certainty if they were to deliver, something EU politicians, with their arguments over the EU budget, were failing to deliver.

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