* Agree to keep EU agriculture budget in 2014-2020 period
* Deal sealed in Rome comes after Germany approval last week
* Ask to extend food aid scheme for poor, Berlin disagrees
* Italy does not support maintaining sugar quotas until 2020
By Sybille de La Hamaide and Catherine Hornby
ROME, Oct 16 France, Italy and Spain on Tuesday
agreed to try and keep the European agriculture budget stable
after 2013, echoing a similar pact between Germany and France
last week, but Italy declined to support a wish to maintain
sugar quotas until 2020.
The farm ministers of the three countries met on the
sidelines of a food security conference at the United Nations'
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome.
The European Commission has proposed to freeze spending
under the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) to the nominal level
of 2013 for the 2014-2020 budget but the proposal still needs to
be approved by finance ministers and heads of state.
"There is now a common basis on which we will be able to
negotiate, work with the European Commission," French
Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said after the meeting.
Germany and France last week endorsed the European
Commission proposal for a spending freeze.
Italian Agriculture Minister Mario Catania also stressed
that the deal came as the final phase of negotiations on the
common agricultural policy was approaching.
"There is quite a significant convergence between Italy,
France and Spain on all the main questions, above all the
defense of the EU farm budget, which is a key point," he said.
At 55 billion euros ($71 billion) a year, the farm budget
consumes more than 40 percent of the EU's total annual
expenditure, more than any other sector.
Le Foll said that the trilateral deal was about 85 percent
in line with the Franco-German agreement sealed in Berlin last
week, with two major changes, mainly that Italy did not want to
maintain EU sugar quotas until 2020.
"Italy eats sugar but does not produce much, so they are not
very interested in the extension," he said.
The Commission proposed an end to sugar production quotas
and minimum beet prices from 2015.
EU AID FOR THE POOREST
Another difference concerned the EU-funded food aid scheme
that supplies food to millions of poor Europeans.
As opposed to Spain, Italy and France, Germany objects to an
extension of the scheme whose budget would amount to 3.5 billion
euros ($4.5 billion) over seven years as they see that as a
social policy, which does not fall under EU prerogative.
The food aid scheme was introduced in 1987 and was
originally designed to divert part of the bloc's mountains of
grain and butter to help feed poor citizens.
Reform of the CAP from the 1990s onward slashed the size of
the so-called intervention farm stocks, and the scheme was
revised to allow the Commission to buy food aid from the market
when the stocks were low.
A ruling last year that said it could not be funded directly
from the EU budget forced the Commission to slash funding for
2012. Heavy lobbying, led by France, the largest beneficiary,
had the scheme extended by one year but Germany, which does not
benefit from the aid, now wants it stopped.
"The idea was never social policy. Now this whole thing has
changed because money is being used to actually to buy food and
give it to those in need and that is social policy and this is
the responsibility of the individual member states," German
Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner told reporters.
She also stressed that the final CAP budget would eventually
depend on negotiations of the heads of state.
Officials hope to conclude negotiations on the EU's next
long-term term budget, worth almost 1 trillion euros ($1.3
trillion) over seven years, by the end of this year with EU
leaders due to discuss the issue late November in Brussels.
($1 = 0.7730 euros)
(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide)