Brussels may shortly use the EU’s €400m Crisis Fund for agriculture as a way of delivering much needed aid to farmers throughout Europe, according to MEP Jim Nicholson.
“The issue was specifically raised by EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan at a meeting which he hosted for leading members of the European Parliament on Thursday past,” he said.
“I was in attendance. Details of how the money might be spent are still unclear. However, the stance taken by Hogan at the meeting reflects the fact that a fast changing set of circumstances is now unfolding in Brussels, where agriculture is concerned.
“Crucially, the Commission is now officially confirming that the industry is in deep crisis. This contrasts totally with the views held by Commissioner Hogan and his staff on this matter for the past year and more.”
Mr Nicholson confirmed that a number of different aid packages for agriculture are now being discussed in Brussels.
“Again, it will take some time before the full details will emerge, where these proposals are concerned.
“But it is now clear that the Commission will allow members states and regions therein to change funding allocations within their respective Rural Development Programmes on a twice yearly basis.”
According to the Ulster Unionist MEP, this would allow Northern Ireland’s Farm Minister to shift funding from the shortly to be announced Farm Business Improvement Scheme to measures that deliver direct aid to farmers.
“These measures can be targeted at farmers across all sectors,” he added.
“Individual member states will also be allowed more flexibility when it comes to funding farmers from their own national exchequers.”
Mr Nicholson confirmed that a scheme which would compensate dairy farmers for cutting back on milk production had also been discussed in Brussels over the past seven days.
“Most likely, this would be worked out as an agreement between individual processors and their farm suppliers,” he said.
“But my understanding is that the compensation measures put in place would be funded by national governments.”
Mr Nicholson said that the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Trichet, will visit Moscow in six weeks’ time to discuss, amongst other things, the ongoing impact of Russia’s import ban on EU food products.
“It is critical for Europe’s farmers that a deal is arrived at which will see the lifting of this ban,” he said.
“Europe’s farmers did not create the difficulties that now exist between Russia and the EU. So their businesses should not be put in peril because of a dispute that was not of their making.”