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EU nations confirm cuts in food aid program

The European Union confirmed plans Thursday to cut over three-quarters in funding of a €500 million ($690 million) program that helps feed 18 million of its poorest citizens.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The European Union confirmed plans Thursday to cut over three-quarters in funding of a €500 million ($690 million) program that helps feed 18 million of its poorest citizens.

The EU's farm commissioner said he was "appalled" that six nations continue to block the extension of the full program after New Year's Day.

"It is a proof of egoism in an EU where we need solidarity more than ever," Dacian Ciolos said after the meeting of EU farm ministers. "Solidarity should not only be with banks and financial systems, but also with the people that suffer from the economic crisis."

The reduced program of €113 million ($155 million) comes at a time of rising unemployment and consumer food prices as European countries try to slash budgets in the face of the economic crisis.

The program was one of the top providers to European charities. Last year, the European Federation of Food Banks received 51 percent of its food from the program.

Ciolos suggested a compromise proposal to assuage Germany and five other nations that constitute a blocking minority in the EU's decision-making structure, but still could not pass it.

Poland's farm minister, Marek Sawicki, who chaired the meeting, said he will seek to put the issue on the agenda of Sunday's EU summit of government leaders to force a belated breakthrough.

"We will try to convince prime ministers and heads of states of government to raise this during the summit. Maybe there will be a last change of heart," Sawicki said after the meeting in Luxembourg.

Despite the crisis, the six countries — Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden, say they oppose the measures on legal grounds in a dispute over the origins of funding. The program, which started in 1987, was supposed to get its food from surpluses in the EU's bloated farm program. But over time, as the farming became more efficient, food was increasingly purchased on the market to keep the program going.

In recent years, Germany and other countries have objected to that practice, saying the program is not living up to its original mandate of doing something useful with excess products from farms. Germany won a legal case in April to outlaw the practice of purchasing the food on the market.

The problems involving the program predate the economic and currency crisis that is turning governments throughout the union towards penny-pinching measures, and Ciolos has said the problem is purely legal since the budget already has the funds written in.