Farmers fear EU subsidy cuts more than competition

ARGOS – Greek farmers welcome the opening of new markets with the EU’s eastward expansion on May 1 but fear the farming subsidy cuts that go along with it as the bloc reforms its generous agricultural policy. «New EU members do not compete with us on our basic products, neither on oranges nor on goat milk cheese, to speak about our region,» said Panayiotis Peveretos, a 53-year-old farmer in the southern farming region of Argolida. «With enlargement, new markets open up. If we are clever, we could sell more, we could benefit,» he said. A senior official at Greece’s biggest farm union PASEGES concurs. «The agricultural products of the 10 new entrants are not directly competing with our basic products such as cotton, olive oil, tobacco, wine, citrus fruits and vegetables,» the official said. «We must focus on the products where we are best: olive oil, citrus fruits, animal breeding,» said Perevetos, who developed an automated procedure to develop feta, Greece’s national goat cheese. But EU enlargement could hit Greek farmers through the back door. The entry of farming heavyweights such as Poland spurs the bloc into reforming its agricultural policy (CAP), which gobbles up nearly half of the bloc’s annual budget of 100 billion euros ($120 billion). «The big changes will primarily come through CAP reform,» said the PASEGES official. Under an accord reached in October 2002, EU farm spending will be frozen from 2007 to 2013, leaving the same pie to feed farmers in 25 member states instead of the current 15. This could deal a heavy blow to Greek farmers, who derive half of their income from EU funds, according to PASEGES figures. While Greece contributes around 4 percent of the bloc’s agricultural product, it receives 8 percent of the bloc’s farming subsidies. Despite their steadily decreasing numbers, farmers still account for 13 percent of Greece’s economically active population – according to Greek officials the highest percentage in the EU. Pampered by fat European subsidies since Greece entered the then European Community in 1981, the country’s farmers failed to modernize. «There was no modernization in the 1980s. Everybody just waited for the subsidies without modernizing,» said Perevetos. «Now we’ve fallen behind Spain, which produces oranges all year round. We are limited to a five-month season,» he added.

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