European Union thrashs out farm reform
BRUSSELS: EU ministers entered the last stages of talks on the most radical shake-up of agriculture policy in years as thousands of French farmers joined forces on Monday to protest against cuts to their lavish subsidies.
The 15 European Union farm ministers, meeting for the last time before a crucial vote next month, remain bitterly split on Farm Commissioner Franz Fischlerís idea to cut subsidies for food production and spend more on developing the countryside. Bickering over Fischlerís plan has lasted nearly a year. The reform package, which aims to overhaul the EUís costly Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), has sparked fierce resistance from France: by far the largest recipient of CAP funding, backed by several southern member states such as Spain. Some 15,000 French farmers, swelled by coachloads of supporters from Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, were due to take to the streets in four key French farming regions later on Monday ó hoping to burn the Fischler plan on a funeral pyre.
While technical progress has been made on the thorniest points of the package, it will up to the farm ministers to make crucial political decisions, most likely after bargaining late into the night when they next meet in Luxembourg on June 11.
WTO pressure: After an informal three-day session in Corfu earlier in May, most EU states favour pressing for a deal next month, so that the EU has a better negotiating position on farm policy at a September meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). óReuters