The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

Malta will not budge on EU agricultural funding – Abela

Albert Galea Sunday, 23 February 2020, 11:35 Last update: about 4 months ago

Malta will not budge on agricultural funding as part of the European Union's upcoming multi-annual financial framework, which is currently being negotiated, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Sunday.

Speaking in a short radio interview on One Radio, Abela recounted the two days of negotiations in Brussels over the next EU budget, which will carry it through the 2021 and 2027 period.

The heads of state of the 27 European Union countries convened in a summit in Brussels late last week to discuss the budget, but emerged on Friday without an agreement having been met.

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Abela spoke of how the summit was brought together in a scenario where the European Council itself had a new president, with former Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel taking on the role a few weeks ago.

He said that the idea of the summit was to reach an agreement for the EU's 2021-2027 budget - the multi-annual financial framework - but admits that it was perhaps "over-ambitious" to expect an agreement to be reached in just two days, as all 27 member states need to agree on the way forward.

Nonetheless, intensive work towards an agreement will continue, Abela explained. He described the work as intensive because, he said, there are particular circumstances which have to be factored into this scenario.

He said that the budget itself has very ambitious targets in fields such as the environment, which will require more money being added to the fund.  Furthermore, institutions such as the European Parliament and European Commission are also advocating for an increase to the budget.

However, on the other side of the coin, the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union must also be taken into consideration, Abela explained, as the UK was one of the biggest financial contributors - over €60 billion - to the budget in the past.

Abela said that there are then individual realities which must be taken into consideration, hinting that Malta's positive economic performance may work against it in obtaining more funds.  He noted that EU funds are primarily for cohesion - so that there aren't big discrepancies in the quality of life across the countries in the Union.

However, Abela noted, there are areas where Malta suffers from severe discrepancies when compared with other countries, such as in the agricultural sector.

"In agriculture, under the agreement negotiated by the Nationalists, we are currently paying six times more than we receive.  Now we are being asked to pay ten times more than we receive.  I am negotiating on this point as it is crucial for our farmers to have more funds - I have made this position very clear with the Commission and Council President - that we cannot accept a decrease in cohesion funds for agriculture", Abela said.

The agricultural sector has come under the microscope especially as of late, with farmers currently facing the struggles of dry weather. Former PN MEP candidate Peter Agius meanwhile told this newsroom earlier this week that Malta could receive €36 million less in funding for the agricultural sector.

Abela noted that 17 countries - including Malta - are advocating for an increase in the budget, but that four are advocating for a decrease. Abela explained that a middle ground, which takes into consideration the proposals of the European Parliament and Commission as well, needs to be found in order for negotiations to move forward.

Abela also said that what had struck him most was the way that he was welcomed by his peers.

He said that he had received a warm welcome from colleagues, something which filled him with courage.  He said that discussions with figures such as European Parliament President Davide Sassoli and European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans had been positive, and noted that they are noting the changes that the government has made in the past month and a half.

Concluding, he said that Malta would continue to negotiate with a sense of "strength, but also reason", accepting the realities of the country's good economy but also making sure that the country gets a "fair deal" which will take Malta to the ambitions and targets for the 2021-2027.

 

 


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