EU farm reforms raise fears remote areas will wither -MEP
LONDON Jan 3 (Reuters) - European Union moves toward a more market-oriented farm policy and the pressure to cut government spending is raising fears that remote communities will wither, a member of the European Parliament's agriculture committee said.
"There are genuine fears about land abandonment, village decline and a lack of young people in remote parts of the EU. These issues weigh heavily in our debate in committee," Mairead McGuinness told the Oxford Farming Conference on Thursday.
Policies such as the planned abolition of milk quotas in 2015 are causing concerns among some MEPs, who fear milk production will end in disadvantaged regions, she said.
"Our real dilemma is that we do not know with any certainty how much money will be available for the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) budget post-2013, and more alarmingly we fear that cuts to rural development will be deep," she said.
European Union leaders were unable to reach agreement late last year on a budget for the 2014-2020 period, which has created uncertainty about the future level of farm spending.
McGuinness also cited tension in farm budget talks between new EU members, whose farmers currently receive lower levels of support payments, and older EU members.
The European Parliament's Agriculture Committee is due to vote on CAP reform on Jan. 23.
"I am concerned that this contentious political issue will divide the parliament, and I expect that the position of MEPs from these countries will be reflected in our vote in January," she said.
"In an era of budget austerity, the only way to meet demands of the new member states is to take money from those countries with higher payments - a difficult process for those member states that will lose out, especially if they are net contributors to the EU budget," McGuinness added.
Owen Paterson, Britain's farming and environment minister, said Britain was the second-largest net contributor after Germany and was seeking spending cuts, with the country borrowing an estimated 400,000 pounds ($651,400) a minute.
"Until we starting growing wealth again, we are going to be reducing these programmes," he said.
($1 = 0.6141 British pounds) (Reporting by Nigel Hunt; editing by Jane Baird)
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