Members of the European Parliament agriculture committee have raised concerns over cuts made to the European Union (EU)’s rural development fund in the recent EU 2014-20 spending deal – warning it may especially hit farmers rearing livestock of sheep and goats in poor regions.
“I am very worried by the figure that I hear on rural development being reduced by 11.2%,” said British Conservative MEP James Nicholson yesterday (Thursday), stressing that he is not honour-bound to back the cuts even though they were supported by British prime minister and Conservative party leader David Cameron.
In the February 8 budget agreement, EU presidents and prime ministers earmarked Euro EUR84.9 billion for rural development, to be distributed between EU countries “based on objective criteria and past performance”. That is a EUR11.5 billion decrease from the EUR96.4 billion dedicated to rural development from 2007-13.
Rural development spending is partly dedicated to improving the competitiveness of the agricultural sector. Livestock farmers all over Europe and especially those living in poor rural areas in newer EU member states benefit directly from this spending – extensive animal rearing in mountain areas has been a noteworthy beneficiary.
“There are fewer people producing this scarce commodity – food – than they have ever been,” Nicholson noted, adding that livestock rearers and other food producers needed the economic certainty offered by the EU to stay in the sector.
German Liberal Democrat MEP Britta Reimers agreed that the cuts in rural development funding are counterintuitive, given people are migrating from the countryside to cities, abandoning livestock farming. “The budget is going contrary to what we need to do,” she underlined.
German Green MEP Martin Häusling added this spending had actually been cut for the 2007-13 budget as well: “Rural development is suffering of the major cut; that was the case last time too,” he said.
The agriculture committee also accused the EU Council of Ministers of lack of transparency in failing to provide clear information on how much money would go to each EU country to invest in rural development.
"The Council is doing it on purpose and they want to hide it from the negotiations,” the Portuguese Socialist Democrat MEP Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos complained.