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Offsetting effects of Russian embargo: Keep agriculture money for farmers, MEPs say

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Members of the Agriculture committee demanded on Thursday to keep the funding from milk super-levies in the EU agriculture budget and use it to offset the impact of the Russian import ban on EU farmers. The embargo on EU food products that Russia imposed in August is a result of a political decision and therefore the aid to the most hit food producers should not be funded by across-the-board cuts to direct payments, MEPs said.

During the debate MEPs criticised Commission's proposal to use the extra €465 million in the agriculture budget, which comes mostly from clearance of accounts and milk super-levies, i.e. fines imposed on member states for exceeding their milk quotas, to balance the EU budget and to fight spread of Ebola.

Many, including Jens Rohde (ALDE, DK) recognised the importance of settling EU bills and tackling the Ebola crisis but insisted that right now EU agriculture is hit hard by the Russian embargo and so the money should be found elsewhere. "We all have to pay our bills and we shall all contribute to fighting against Ebola. But it is not fair if only farmers are to pay the bill", Mr Rohde said.

Lack of money for any future crisis

In the Amending letter no 1 to the EU 2015 draft budget the Commission proposed to use so-called crisis reserve to alleviate the impacts of Russian food embargo. But this would mean that for the next year, the reserve would remain almost empty, many MEPs said during the debate, with less than €89 million out of €433 million left available if any agricultural crisis breaks up in 2015.

"Money available for emergencies is totally insufficient. We might have a major crisis somewhere in agriculture in Europe next year and we will not have enough money to cover the needs," Albert Dess (EPP, DE) warned.

"The crisis reserve is there for a reason", agreed Matt Carthy (GUE/NGL, IE). He pointed to "challenges in the dairy sector" and "huge volatility in beef market" and insisted that "this reserve is there to ensure that a safety net is there for us all."

"No" to across-the-board cuts

Funds for the crisis reserve are to be raised by cutting direct payments to all farmers, which many MEPs strongly disagreed with, especially because the current crisis was caused by political actions.

"As the current crisis in agriculture has been inflicted by a foreign policy decision and not by market failure, revenues assigned to the agriculture budget, and especially at a time when the sector is faced with a crisis, should be spend on agriculture", chair of the Agriculture committee Czeslaw Adam Siekierski (EPP, PL) said.

"We will take this money directly out of the pockets of farmers (...) and this is unacceptable. More than once the CAP was used as a sort-of cash dispenser. You go there to get money to use in other parts of budget because the EU does not have any more money. This is a dangerous precedent", Paolo De Castro (S&D, IT) said.

Bronis Ropé (Greens/EFA, LT) described the Commission's proposal as "incomprehensible" and said that farmers from the Baltic states, which are among those hardest hit by the Russian embargo, are also receiving the lowest direct payments in the EU and currently also suffer from the African swine fever. "Do you really want farmers to come to Brussels and pour milk on the streets", he asked and called on the Commission to quickly take "concrete actions".

James Nicholson (ECR, UK) said that money from the agriculture budget could be temporarily used to solve other pressing issues EU is facing now and then sent back to the CAP budget. "What should happen is that if that money is required for a crisis in agriculture next year that the money will be returned to the [CAP] budget line. You require it in a short time basis, ok, but give us the assurance that you will return this [money] if needed", Mr Nicholson said.

Milk and fruit for schools

MEPs were also concerned with the oversupply on the EU market of products that were originally intended for the Russian market. To reduce the pressure at least a bit Giulia Moi (EFDD, IT) suggested that "dairy or fruit and vegetables that suffer from the Russian embargo" could be "put in our schools".

Letter to the Budget's committee

The Agriculture committee has also sent a letter to the chair of the Parliament's Budget committee Jean Arthuis (ALDE, FR), who also took part in Thursday's debate. The letter calls on Mr Arthuis, who is the Parliament's chief negotiator on next year's EU budget, "to defend the interests of the agricultural sector in the forthcoming conciliation on the 2015 budget" and "to stress the need for urgent crisis funds (...) in front of the Commission and the Council".

Watch the debate via VOD (starting at 10:15)
Committee on Agriculture and Rural development
Press Briefing link to Live webstream