Beckett farms out powers to EU
By Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent, in Luxembourg
(Filed: 13/06/2003)

Britain lost the power yesterday to decide its own policy on handling any
future foot and mouth epidemic when agriculture ministers voted to give the
European Commission the final say on whether any country should vaccinate or

Because of concerns about British shortcomings in dealing with the £8
billion epidemic that brought the countryside to a halt in 2001, the
directive agreed yesterday gives the commission "a key role in managing an
outbreak in partnership with the member states".

A senior commission official said this would mean the commission could
impose emergency vaccination if a member state's infected livestock were not
culled within 24 hours and dangerous contacts within 48 hours.

The decision to force vaccination on a country with foot and mouth would go
to a vote of all European Union member states. Any infected member nation
that refused to implement vaccination after a vote in favour would become
ineligible for compensation from Brussels.

The directive signed by Margaret Beckett, the Agriculture Secretary, and her
EU counterparts yesterday goes much further than the Anderson and Royal
Society inquiries into the foot and mouth crisis, which recommended that
vaccination should be "considered" as a weapon of first resort.

David Byrne, commissioner for health and consumer protection, said emergency
vaccination would be "moved to the forefront of control measures instead of
being the last resort".

In 2001, the Government did not have a vaccination policy and repeatedly
rejected the advice of vets and foot and mouth experts to implement
emergency vaccination in the worst-hit parts of Cumbria and Devon.

The decision came as Mrs Beckett was left looking isolated and out of touch
at yesterday's negotiations after it emerged that Germany and France had
struck an agreement that derailed British hopes of radically reforming the
bloated Common Agricultural Policy.

Renate Kunast, the German agriculture minister, and Herve Gaymard, said they
had agreed a common position on the two most important issues in a package
of proposals to reform £31 billion farming subsidies. They oppose plans by
Franz Fischler, the EU Agriculture Commissioner, to stop subsidising farmers
according to the amount of food they produce. They also reject Mr Fischler's
proposals to cut farming subsidies by up to 20 per cent by 2013 and to
reform the dairy and arable sectors.

While France and Germany are prepared to allow a proportion of farmers'
subsidies to be separated from production, Mrs Beckett wants a total break,
which she and Mr Fischler believe would make farmers more competitive, more
sensitive to the environment and which would aid World Trade Organisation at
Cancun in Mexico in September.

But when asked what effect she thought the Franco-German deal would have on
the reforms, Mrs Beckett denied its existence. "It is not clear to me that
that is the position," she said.

She said her objective remained total separation of the subsidy-production
link. "It remains that that is in the best interests of all member states,"
she said.

France is by far the biggest beneficiary of the CAP, which takes up nearly
half of the EU's annual budget, and until recently was opposed to any

Mrs Kunast, a Green member of the German government, has persuaded M Gaymard
of the need for reform. A senior member of the German delegation said: "We
have done our work and that was to change the position of the French, who
were saying no change until Cancun."