EU Commission says yes to first rural schemes
By Philip Clarke
THE first eight plans, drawn up under the rural development chapter of Agenda 2000 – the so-called "second pillar" of the common agricultural policy – have been approved by the EU Commission in Brussels.
Four countries will share in EU funding of k7.5bn (£4.6bn) over the next seven years for a range of schemes designed to improve the environment and keep people working in rural areas.
Finland, for example, has the go-ahead for a new general protection scheme under which farmers will have to meet a range of agri-environmental measures.
In return, arable farms will get k93/ha (£58/ha), livestock farms k117/ha (£72/ha) and horticulturalists up to k484/ha (£300/ha), with between 50% and 75% of the cost met by Brussels.
Top-ups will be provided for special undertakings, such as establishing riparian zones, organic conversion and increasing bio-diversity.
Finnish plans for hill compensatory allowances, investment aids and diversification have also been approved.
Environmentally sustainable farming also accounts for much of the Swedish rural development plan. In total k2.55bn (£1.58bn) is being spent, of which k1.13bn (£700m) is EU money. Almost half of this will go for agri-environmental measures.
A second tier of aid will help young farmers set up in farming, and provide investment aid and training.
EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler has welcomed the first wave of approvals, which also includes k3.2bn (£2bn) for Austria and k954m (£591m) for four regions of Italy. "Establishing rural development programmes and ensuring their successful implementation are important steps in building up this second pillar of the CAP," he said.
But the eight projects in question represent just a start to the process. Total EU spending on rural development for the fifteen member states comes to k30.4bn (£18.8bn) for the 2000-06 period, with member state governments also contributing to the cost.
Each scheme has to be approved by the Brussels-based agricultural structures and rural development (STAR) committee, before being signed off by the commission.
Given the delays in setting up the schemes, it is widely accepted that the money available for this year will not be taken up. Dr Fischler expects to roll unused funds over into next years account, said a commission spokesman. *