BRUSSELS, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Demands to slash EU spending on agriculture have resulted in protests from the Baltic states, France and others who say it will hit farming too hard.
Negotiations on the seven-year EU budget broke off last week after Britain, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands demanded widespread reductions in spending up to 2020.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy's rejected proposal sought to trim about $31 billion from farm spending, part of an overall reduction of about $97 billion from the European Commission's original budget of about $1.3 trillion.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has demanded a real-time freeze on EU spending, which would result in $260 billion less than what Van Rompuy is seeking, The New York Times reported.
With a stark split between economically strong EU members such as Germany, which supplied European bailout funds, and weaker ones such as Greece suffering from unemployment and austerity measures, farmers say they are being singled out to pay the price with harsh cuts to the European Union's common agricultural policy.
Farmers from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia protested the proposed cuts in Brussels last week before the talks adjourned without a deal, saying their already-low direct subsidies under the CAP wouldn't rise enough to keep up with farm costs under the $31 billion cut to the farming program.
"(Farming) costs are constantly increasing," Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce Chairman Roomet Sormus told EurActiv.com.
Saying "huge investments" are required to keep agricultural operations running, Sormus warned, "Farmers are forced to take risks and borrow most of the money from a bank. We are facing the threat of our farmers abandoning their farms and stopping production, which will also have an impact on all European consumers."
Under the current commission proposal, the three Baltic countries, which already receive the lowest subsidy rates in Europe, would see rates from an average of $154 per hectare to $205 per hectare. That compares to $593 per hectare currently received by farmers in the Netherlands.
Those numbers, however, could be reduced further as the commission is pressured to cut more than $31 billion from the CAP after talks resume in January.
The protests, organized by Baltic Farmers Coalition, were backed by Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip.
"The question is about the principle of equal treatment," he told the farmers. "We do not demand more money, but justice."
Meanwhile, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said last week he is prepared to veto the 2014-20 EU budget unless direct payments to his country get fair treatment, Europolitics.com reported.
France has also warned it could use its veto power to block the proposed cuts to farm subsidies.
"The fate reserved for agriculture, given our desire for balance, is unacceptable," French Minister Delegate for European Affairs M. Bernard Cazeneuve said last week after the negotiations broke off.
"No good balance would be based on huge increases for some policies and significant cuts for others," he added. "This is why we don't agree to the proposed drastic CAP cuts and why we're also worried about the fate of the cohesion policy."
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