Sweden Backing on Farming Subsidies?

On the eve of the EU election in Sweden, the political parties were trying to outdo each other when it came to promises to abolish farming subsidies in Europe.

But during Sweden’s EU presidency, agricultural minister Eskil Erlandsson may find himself forced both to extend and to restore agricultural support.

“Flexibility is crucial in an EU context, “ Erlandsson told Swedish News Agency TT at the prospect of Monday’s minister meeting in Brussels.

One of the first issues Erlandsson will have to address is a proposal from the EU commission to prolong the pegging purchase of milk within the EU until March 2010. According to TT it is likely that Erlandsson will have to prepare the way for a favourable vote on the proposal at the next meeting in the beginning of September.

The government’s intention to agree to a prolonged agricultural support later this autumn has been received with criticism from the Opposition.

“All parties had agreed on the importance of phasing out the subsidies. But it doesn’t seem as if the government is taking it seriously,” said Carina Ohlsson, a Social Democrat and a member of the Parliamentary Committee on European Union Affairs, to TT.

“The alternative would have been worse and more costly,” Erlandsson defended the scheme to TT. He says that it would mean a demand for other subsidies on exported goods, which would have been problematic for countries outside of the EU.

In Europe Sweden is part of a very small group of countries that want to radically cut down on agricultural subsidies. But Erlandsson is going to have to tone down that side if he wants any decisions at all being taken over the next six months. Instead, he will have to deal with the large part of his colleagues who are determined to go slowly with agricultural reforms and raise, or at least not reduce, the existing subsidies.

Although earlier decisions regarding reforms will still be maintained, the economic crisis have made several countries doubt their validity, and dairy farmers’ demonstrations in countries like Germany and France have influenced politicians all over Europe. According to TT, the EU has ordered an analysis on the European milk market, which is expected to be presented on 22 July. After that, proposals even less to Sweden’s liking, may well be finding their way onto Erlandsson’s desk.