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EU officials down on the farm - 18/03/2009

A farmer feeding cows © EC

EU reports progress in efforts to simplify farm rules.

EU agriculture officials are about to get a reality check. Starting next year, their on-the-job training will include a stint on a working farm.

Regulators are sometimes seen as being out of touch with those they serve. The ‘harvest experience’ programme aims to deepen civil servants’ understanding of the day-to-day realities of farm life and so lead to smarter policies. The commission is also considering training officials in how to write jargon-free legal texts.

The measures are highlighted in a commission report on moves to make EU farm rules more transparent, easier to understand and less of a burden to farmers.

No one denies that EU farm policy is complicated. Agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel once described it as a “deep, broad forest” for which there is no complete map. That was in October 2006, when the commission launched an action plan to reduce red tape for farmers.

Now – more than two years later – there has been substantial progress, with changes that promise to save farmers hundreds of millions of euros in administrative costs. Looking ahead, the report says the EU will meet its goal of reducing the administrative burden by at least 25% by 2012.

The report provides an overview of what’s been achieved so far. Hundreds of obsolete laws have been struck from the books and others consolidated into single texts. Administrative procedures have been streamlined and in some cases scrapped. One prime example – many more products, mainly cereals, can now be imported and exported without a licence.

The common agricultural policy (CAP) has undergone extensive reforms over the last two decades - most recently in 2003 when the EU abolished production-based farm aid.

Last autumn EU leaders reached agreement on commission proposals to expand the reform. In allowing farmers more freedom to grow what the market wants, the scheme is expected to save the industry €281m in paperwork.

Better use of information technology would save another €400m, the report said.

All this would save the EU money too, as it spends about €55bn a year (some 40% of the EU budget) on farm policy. The current farm budget covers 2007-12. Discussions on the next funding period begin this year.

CAP health check


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