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EU debates cutting food aid to millions of Europe's poor

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-09-20

The European Union will decide on Tuesday whether to cut food aid for 13 million people living in poverty in 19 EU countries. Britain and Germany are among countries supporting the cut, saying that food aid should be handled as domestic policy.

AFP - Europe's farm ministers Tuesday decide whether to agree a plan to ditch 80 percent of the food aid being delivered to 13 million Europeans too poor to afford proper meals, a plan backed notably by Britain and Germany.

"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 revolted by the decision to scrap this aid for the most deprived," he told RTL radio

Should farm ministers from the European Union fail to row back against a planned cut from a yearly 480 million euros to 113.5 million in 2012 in food aid for the needy, "next month it will be too late", a diplomat who asked not to be identified told AFP.

"This is a last-ditch chance to save the programme," he added.

The scheme set up in 1987 under the common agricultural policy (CAP) came under threat in April when the EU Court of Justice, ruling on a request from Germany, stated that the programme could only use supplies from EU food stocks.

But 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.

In July, the European parliament 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 overwelming 548-52 majority.

Currently, several austerity-driven EU nations have agreed to block a bid to maintain the food to the needy programme within the union's budget.

A European diplomat said Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden had opposed moves to find an interim solution enabling continued delivery of the aid within a formula acceptable to the court.

"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.

Top recipients of the aid are Italy, Poland and France. And in recent days opponents of the plan to slice the aid have been involved in intense diplomatic activity to pressure one or more of the nations in favour to switch sides.

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 "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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