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Germany

Big German farmers could lose out in EU subsidy shakeup

The EU has put forward a new plan for its agricultural policy which will reward environmentally conscious farmers and redistribute subsidies to benefit new member states. German farmers and the government are not happy.

A farmer works his field from a tractor

Some German farmers are worried about the proposals

The European Commission on Thursday released a rough draft for the EU's agricultural policy as of 2013. According to a Commission press release, the proposed reforms aim to make the bloc's policy "greener, fairer, more efficient and more effective." German farmers however, see the changes in a less favorable light.

Gerd Sonnleitner, head of the German Farmers' Association, said the new proposals were "more of a step backwards than a step forwards." Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said subsidy ceilings for large agricultural plants were something she "couldn't support."

"We're ready, to a limited degree, to accept an adjustment," she said. "But we will stand up against any attempt at leveling down."

Some 56 billion euros ($76 billion) a year, or 40 percent of the EU budget, is spent on agricultural subsidies. About 6.9 billion of that goes to Germany. Now the Commission wants the cash to be divided in what it describes as a more fair and transparent way.

The EU's agricultural policy is "not just for farmers, it is for all EU citizens - as consumers and taxpayers," said EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Dacian Ciolos in a statement. "European agriculture needs to be not only economically competitive, but also environmentally competitive."

Taking the cost of going organic into account

An organic dairy farmer feeds his cows grass

The EU wants to take into account the extra effort needed for organic farming

Currently subsidies are distributed primarily based on the size of a farm. The new proposals would take into consideration the number of employees needed to farm each hectare so that farmers who use more employees to farm in more environmentally friendly ways are not penalized for their efforts.

Aigner said she was skeptical of the move to link environmentally friendly farming with more subsidies, saying the emphasis on organic or ecological requirements would require more inspections and monitoring. "The environment isn't helped when it's just the bureaucracy that flourishes," she said.

Author: Holly Fox (AFP, dpa)

Editor: Rob Turner

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