* Nine countries want output-linked subsidies for growers
* Change would unpick June EU farm policy reform deal
* EU farm commissioner warns against
By Francesco Guarascio and Charlie Dunmore
BRUSSELS, Sept 23 Italy led a group of EU
governments on Monday calling for tobacco farmers to receive
more subsidies as part of reforms to the bloc's common
agricultural policy (CAP), threatening to reopen a deal reached
Most elements of the CAP reform have already been agreed by
EU negotiators. A few remaining budget-related issues are due to
be finalised in the coming days, paving the way for formal
adoption by EU governments and the European Parliament before
the reforms begin to take effect from 2014.
But the changes requested by some tobacco-producing
countries would mean unpicking parts of the June deal and could
undermine efforts to pass the reform in time for it to take
effect on Jan. 1 next year.
"In a document signed by nine ministers, we ask to reopen a
debate in Europe on the future of the tobacco sector," Italy's
agriculture minister, Nunzia De Girolamo, told reporters on the
sidelines of a meeting of EU farm ministers in Brussels.
Italian officials said a joint declaration had been signed
by De Girolamo and farm ministers from France, Spain, Greece,
Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia.
In the document, the group said the CAP reform deal had
unfairly discriminated against tobacco farmers by denying
governments the option of linking their subsidies to output
Under the June agreement, countries can link up to 15
percent of direct subsidies worth about 40 billion euros ($54
billion) annually to output levels, but only for certain
products including cereals, livestock and dairy.
Such coupled payments tend to be higher than the basic
area-based subsidies for which all EU farmers are eligible. They
are designed to ensure that farming is maintained in marginal
areas such as uplands.
Despite support from some EU governments and members of the
European Parliament, tobacco was excluded from the list of
products eligible for production-linked payments.
RISKS OF REOPENING TALKS
The group of countries would need the support of other EU
member states to reopen negotiations with the European
Parliament on the issue.
That would raise the prospect that parliament could try to
renegotiate other elements of the deal. The EU's top farm
official warned against such a move.
"In my opinion, for the health of the discussions that we
will have now, it is important to be clear that we stick to the
issues that have yet to be concluded," EU farm commissioner
Dacian Ciolos said.
"The issue of tobacco, together with other issues, were
concluded in the political agreement that we reached in June,"
Ciolos told a news conference.
A final round of talks between negotiators for EU
governments and the parliament is scheduled for Tuesday. One EU
official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the bid to
reopen talks on tobacco was unlikely to win enough support from
other EU countries.
The EU produces around 280,000 tonnes of raw tobacco each
year, equivalent to about 4 percent of global output. Italy is
the bloc's biggest producer, followed by Bulgaria, Poland and
The bloc is also currently debating new legal proposals for
tougher controls on the sale of tobacco products.
($1 = 0.7412 euros)
(editing by Jane Baird)