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Europe

EU splits over food aid for poor

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-09-20

The European Union on Tuesday failed to reach an agreement on whether to renew a programme that delivers food aid for the poor, with opponents of the scheme claiming responsibility for social welfare issues should rest with national governments.

AFP - A programme delivering food aid to 13 million poverty-hit Europeans was left in limbo Tuesday due to opposition from six austerity-driven EU nations, Polish Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki said.

Farm ministers from the 27-nation bloc failed to clinch a deal at talks in Brussels to renew the so-called European programme of assistance to the poor, a scheme dating back to 1987, thrown into jeopardy by a court ruling in April.

"We have not registered a compromise," said Sawicki, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency. "Six countries are clearly opposed."

Sawicki did not name the nations but diplomats earlier told AFP that Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden would block a deal.

In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country is one of the top recipients of the aid with Italy and Poland, said it was "unacceptable for Europe to abandon its weakest citizens."

At stake at the Brussels talks was the future of the food aid, which is to be pared down from a yearly 480 million euros to 113.5 million euros for 2012 and 2013, due to a ruling handed down by the European Court of Justice.

Acting on a request from Germany, the court stated in April that the programme could only use supplies from existing EU food stocks to feed people unable to afford proper meals.

Stocks have fallen in recent years following reforms to the bloc's CAP farm support scheme to make it more market-oriented, forcing the use of EU money to buy supplies on the market to feed the hungry.

"We have nothing against helping the needy but that is a part of social policy, which is the responsibility of each member state," said a diplomat from one of the austerity-conscious objecting nations.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos said failing a last-ditch agreement later Tuesday, the issue would be put to a summit in October to avoid the 80 percent cut in food aid over the next two years.

The EU executive has finessed plans to finance the aid from 2014, he added.

"It will be difficult to explain why a 25-year-old programme is being blocked for two years because some member states do not want to assume their political responsibilities," he said.

"Not only can we save this European food aid but we must do so," said French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire before heading to Brussels for the talks.

"I am appalled by the decision to scrap this aid for the most deprived."

In July, the European parliament too pleaded with the EU to avoid slashing aid to 240 food banks and charities that help feed the hungry in 19 of the bloc's 27 member states.

"Halting an existing and functioning aid scheme abruptly without prior notice or preparation has a major impact on the most vulnerable EU citizens," the parliament said in a resolution adopted with an overwhelming 548-52 majority.

Didier Piard, a spokesman for the Red Cross in France, said the 80 percent cut in funding "means charities risk being able to distribute 130 million fewer meals".

And Olivier Berthe, who heads prominent French charity for the hungry, Restos du Coeur, said that "we face an unprecedented threat at a time when we have never seen as much demand for help."

Date created : 2011-09-20

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