04/04/2012 Future of the European Food Distribution Programme still uncertain

A decision on the future of the European Food Distribution Programme for the most Deprived Persons of the Community (PEAD) was put off once again yesterday. European agriculture ministers did not manage to come to agreement provoking bitter criticism from MEPs. The PEAD’s sources of finance were called into question following a decision by the General Court of the European Union last April which decided that the agricultural basis of the European Regulation on this programme was illegal.

Since then, Member States have been at loggerheads over the new legal basis that should underpin the European Regulation. Since its beginnings, the programme has been financed by the agriculture budget. However, some of the Member States (the United Kingdom, Denmark, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden) now want to see it go under social policy. At the beginning of October the Commission, supported by the European Parliament, proposed an intermediate solution in an attempt to avoid PEAD financing being completely blocked. Their proposal involved funding from two sources for 2012 and 2013 – one part of the programme would be financed by the CAP budget and the other part by the Union’s social cohesion budget.
Despite this new proposal, yesterday’s meeting did not end in agreement. Dacian Ciolos, Commissioner for Agriculture, said that he was “dismayed to see that the Council did not see fit to immediately lift the blockade on the Food Distribution Programme for the most Deprived Persons of the Community (PEAD) for 2012 and 2013. Over the last few days and even over the last few hours, the European Commission has done its utmost to make an agreement happen. As of now, all the technical and legal arguments put forward by certain Member States to disqualify the PEAD are null and void. I want to tell the beneficiaries of food aid and food banks that the European Commission remains committed to keeping this programme going. There is still time to act. It is time for the few Member States blocking the decision to review their position.

The Polish Minister for Agriculture stated that “We are not however closing this programme”. The next discussions on the issue will take place in November.

Heated reactions from MEPs

“Once again, reluctance and lack of political vision have won at the Council of the European Union” stated the President of the Parliament’s EPP group, Joseph Daul. Some members of the EPP’s French delegation also criticised this non-decision: “We are shocked at the narrow mindedness of the six Member States causing the blockage” said MEPs Michel Dantin (UMP), Elisabeth Morin-Chartier (UMP), Alain Lamassoure (UMP) and Damien Abad (Nouveau Centre).

Belgian socialist, Marc Tarabella, did not mince his words either, “The verdict is terrible – the money is there but the European Food Distribution Programme for the most Deprived Persons (PEAD) is blocked. It’s disgusting! [...] Six Member States are cutting off supplies to 18 million Europeans who are completely impoverished and who will have to try survive the next two winters without the support of the European Union. Welcome to the Middle Ages”, he said.

In spite of all-out efforts being made by charitable organisations, the European Commission, the EP and some Member States (France, in particular), the six Member States have not budged. According to Marc Tarabella, “We have worked hard to convince them that selfishness leads nowhere; in particular the Czech Republic which benefitted from the aid in 2010 and Denmark which is in the process of putting together a less conservative government. However, these countries are more focussed on the future of the financial banks than the food banks.”

Jean-Luc Bennahmias, ALDE MEP and vice-president of the Democratic Movement stated that in his opinion, “meetings are coming one after the other and each one is like the last; the dithering continues but some countries are making no effort whatsoever! Nonetheless, compromise solutions have been proposed. The lack of a decision is unacceptable – it means that the associations and beneficiaries of this aid all over Europe will be left high and dry. These people are in a real emergency situation.” He believes that European citizens will find it “incomprehensible” that plans costing billions can be put in place to save the banks on the one hand but, on the other “we are not capable of guaranteeing a modest €500 million annually for the food banks.

Joseph Daul et Jean-Luc Bennahmias proposent dès lors que soit inscrit à l'ordre du jour du prochain Sommet européen de dimanche  le dossier du Programme d'aide aux plus démunis (PEAD). "Le sujet doit être traité directement au plus haut niveau. Le Conseil européen s'annonce comme le dernier recours pour débloquer la situation et sortir enfin de ce blocus décisionnel désespérant" insiste Jean-Luc Bennahmias.

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