Is EU funding fairly used?
By Robert Davies
BIG concerns over the UKs attitude to EU funds placed in proposed national envelopes, emerged at a Welsh conference on the Agenda 2000 CAP reform proposals.
Many farmers in the audience at Llysfasi College, Denbighshire, claimed the UKs record on discretionary payments had set alarm bells ringing. They said farmers had every reason to be nervous whenever British politicians were given more control over farm spending, a policy which was a key component of Agenda 2000.
Bob Parry, president of the Farmers Union of Wales, agreed and cited failure to use green currency compensation, environmental payments, the full suckler cow premium and rural development funds.
Owen Jones, who works in the European Commissions DG6 policy unit, said his personal interpretation of national envelope regulations was that individual governments, would have total discretion over how much of the money awarded to the UK was spent. They would also decide how it was allocated.
He conceded that in time, the EU might decide to put even more of the total amount given to each member into national envelopes. But Mr Jones emphasised that any member government could choose to simply distribute total funding in the same way as at present.
The move to greater subsidiarity also extended to other components of the package of proposals, such as rural development, agri-environment schemes, training and aid to young farmers. But the EUs policy was to ensure that support must not be an incentive to increase production and to prepare European farming to compete on world markets without refunds.
Support for producers in disadvantaged areas was being switched away from headage payments. Member states would be compelled to take action if farming damaged the environment, and there would be ceilings on total payments to farms.
"Agenda 2000 is much bigger than agriculture," Mr Jones insisted. "It is about EU expansion, and creating new roles for farming in environmental protection and integrated rural development."
"The new World Trade Organisation negotiations on the horizon imposed constraints. European agriculture must increase its competitiveness and respond to demands for improved food safety and quality," he said. *