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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » May 28, 2013
Polska… tastes good!
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Time to End Smear Campaign
May 28, 2013   
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by Stanisław Kalemba, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

In my previous feature column, I wrote about attacks on Polish food, especially in countries which are our southern neighbors. I hope this smear campaign is now over. As planned, I had a meeting in Prague with Czech Agriculture Minister Petr Bendl.

It is good that the visit took place because it was an excellent opportunity for us to exchange views. Holding personal talks is the best thing. We started a new stage in our discussion. I am convinced that our relationship will become stronger. The talks in Prague focused on three key topics: the future of the Common Agricultural Policy in the EU’s new financial period, food quality, and the EU directive on tobacco.

Minister Bendl said that the Czech Republic was open to cooperation and that the issue of food quality was a priority for him. He also said that there was no smear campaign against Polish food in his country. At the same time, he pointed out that efforts to ensure food quality and safety for consumers were a common goal for both the Czechs and Poles.

Both Polish and Czech food meets all European Union standard. Instances of non-compliance take place in all EU countries, but there are few of them. Neither in Poland nor the Czech Republic do they exceed the EU average. However, whenever there are reservations, the national authorities responsible for food safety in both countries should contact each other directly and clarify all questions.

Inspection authorities should have the ability to check a suspected product so that it is examined by independent services. The media should not be given any information until the report has been checked and confirmed to be true.

I am convinced that my talks with Minister Bendl as well as those between the heads of the services responsible for food safety will soon produce concrete results. We are direct neighbors and should talk directly to each other. This is the best way to solve any problems. We agreed that we would contact each other more frequently, especially when any problems arise, and that our inspection services would work more closely with each other.

Also important were roundtable talks between the heads of the two countries’ food inspection services. They talked about direct cooperation and about improving the two-way flow of information.

I would also like to comment on the question of withholding 79.9 million euros in EU funding for subsistence and semi-subsistence farms under the Rural Development Plan for 2004-2006. The funding under the Rural Development Plan for 2004-2006 was targeted exclusively at new member states in order to meet the specific needs of farms which produce food for their own consumption and farms which sell some of their output on the marketplace and are in the process of restructuring.

In Poland, applications for funding under the Rural Development Plan were collected in two rounds: from Feb. 1 to March 23, 2005 and from Nov. 6 to Nov. 16, 2006. The program was multiannual and financed under the Rural Development Plan for 2004-2006 until May 2008 and subsequently under the Rural Development Plan for 2007-2013. No new application collection rounds were held for the 2007-2013 Plan. The process of issuing decisions on granting payments in the first and second rounds was completed in June 2007.

In June 2011, the European Commission proposed a financial revision to withhold the almost 80 million euros in funding designed to offset the spending incurred by Poland until Oct.15, 2010. And on May 6 this year the Polish government received the Commission’s executive decision dated May 2, 2013. The talks with the European Commission lasted from 2011 and at each stage the Polish side presented detailed explanations concerning individual issues. As a result, the Commission dropped some of its reservations.

Let me stress that Poland acted in compliance with the law and that the aid money paid to almost 160,000 farm owners with the lowest incomes contributed significantly to the development of the weakest Polish farms and helped form a positive approach to Poland’s EU membership among Polish farmers. In a recent letter of protest sent March 20 to the committee for European funding, Poland wrote that the financial revision was disproportionate to Poland’s alleged faults.

In connection with the executive decision issued May 2 by the European Commission to exclude from EU funding some of the expenses incurred by Poland, the government decided—following a detailed analysis by the Agriculture and Foreign Ministries—to bring to the European Court of Justice a lawsuit to annul the part of the decision concerning the Commission’s refusal to refund the spending. I promise that we will use every opportunity and the whole appeals procedure available to defend our rights.
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