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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » January 26, 2012
Polska... tastes good!
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Food Aid for the Neediest
January 26, 2012   
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In terms of agriculture, one of the biggest successes of Poland’s turn at the rotating presidency of the European Union, from July 1 to Dec. 31, was that a political agreement was reached on a food aid program for those especially in need across the European Union.

The agreement of the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament, which was reached with much difficulty in December, ensures that the food aid program will continue to run in 2012 and 2013.

New rules were adopted for the program to expand the range of products it covers. Now market purchases will be a regular source of supplies for the aid program with a view to replenishing stocks. The program also gives priority to produce of EU origin. Moreover, the program will be wholly financed by the EU and the financing will cover the costs of transport and storage as well as administrative costs directly related to carrying out the program. The program has been running for more than 20 years, contributing to the achievement of important Common Agricultural Policy objectives, but also to building a civil society and social development.

The EU’s food aid program benefits 18 million people across the bloc. These are not only unemployed and homeless people, immigrants, elderly, socially disadvantaged citizens and those underprivileged in other ways, but also large families and single parents. Over 80 million people are at risk of poverty in the European Union, including 20 million children.

The European food aid program for the most deprived persons (PEAD) was launched in 1987 after the adoption of rules by the European Council concerning the provision of public intervention stocks of agricultural products to member states that wanted to use them as food aid for the most deprived people in the EU.

In the mid-1990s, the program was modified to enable the replenishment of intervention stocks with purchases of food on the open market. This was expected to be only a stopgap measure for use in the event of a shortage of certain products. The program as a whole was to be still based on intervention stocks. In recent years, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has changed substantially. Intervention purchases have been either completely withdrawn as a market regulatory tool or significantly phased out in the case of certain products. Consequently, over the years, the food aid program’s dependence on open-market purchases increased. The Commission predicted that this might lead to difficulties related to the program and proposed a change in it. Due to opposition from six member states—Germany, Britain, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic—the proposal was blocked in the Council of the European Union.

In response to a complaint made in 2009 by Germany regarding the program for those especially in need, the European Court of Justice, despite the opinion of the Commission, ruled that most of the food under this program should come from intervention stocks. The current volume of intervention stocks is unable to guarantee assistance at a level sufficient to meet the needs of the most deprived citizens across Europe.

The European Commission prepared another proposal for legislative changes, introducing EU social cohesion objectives as the legal basis. However, despite the positive attitude of the European Commission and European Parliament, six of the EU’s 27 member countries blocked the program.

The new rules enable the transfer of food from intervention stocks to designated organizations, which distribute it among the most deprived persons in the European Union. Although the program continues to run, the resources allocated to it for 2012 have been significantly limited. There is concern that in 2013 these resources will be further reduced or even completely run out.

The Polish presidency made efforts to work out a compromise to allow the program to continue in its full scope. The majority of the member states in the Council are in favor of the program, but there is a minority blocking it. Countries opposing the program substantiate their position in different ways. Most argue that the program meets the objectives of social policy, and social policy is the responsibility of individual member states. Therefore, in their opinion, the European Union should not support poor people from the EU budget. The European Commission insists that there are no budgetary or legal obstacles to continuing with the program. A total of 500 million euros annually is set aside for this purpose in the EU budget, and the program costs EU citizens no more than 1 euro a year per head.
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