Ministers OK fuel aid for fishermen, slam farm reform plans

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EU agriculture and fisheries ministers gave their backing to a €2 billion emergency aid package to help fishermen adjust to rising fuel prices. A large majority of them also lashed out at Commission plans to slash farm subsidies against the current background of a global food crisis.

“Political agreement was reached by a qualified majority on urgent measures for the fishing sector,” a spokesperson for the EU’s French Presidency announced after the meeting on 15 July.

The measures include the possibility for governments to raise the aid cap for fishing vessels to €100,000 over a three-year period, up from the current €30,000 (EURACTIV 18/06/08). Actions to reduce fishing fleet overcapacity and fuel dependency and raise the sale value of fish were also approved.

The move comes after fishermen staged mass protests throughout the EU, responding to a 240% rise in fuel costs since 2004. Countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal and Malta have been hit particularly hard.

But fishermen are not the only ones who have been protesting. Europe’s agricultural sector has also been particularly affected by recent fuel and food price increases, and governments are hoping to protect their farmers from further pain as the Commission eyes wide-scale reform of the EU’s agricultural support rules.

Many ministers therefore spoke out against plans, presented last May by EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, aimed at capping the amount of aid received by the EU’s largest farms and shifting money away from production subsidies and price support schemes towards rural development measures.

Ministers from France, Italy, Germany, the UK, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and other countries said the plans would fail to increase production and risked hitting farmers badly.

France’s Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier, whose country holds the EU presidency, insisted that reforms had to ensure that European farmers produce “more” and “better” products, “especially at a time when we are in a situation of food insecurity in the world”.

He added that his goal was to clinch a deal on the agricultural reform package by November.

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