Agriculture Minister: No reason for Romania not to join the EU because of agriculture Bucharest Business Daily – December 19, 2005
by Andreea Pocotila
Flutur considers the reform of land ownership to be one of the 2005 greatest achievements of the agriculture system.
Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur spoke to Bucharest Daily News about the challenges farmers will face after EU accession. He said in an exclusive interview that Romania will fight for subsistence farms to be acknowledged as a particularity of the country after 2007. However, he admitted the only chance for success in the field will be the association of producers in bigger farms.
Flutur agreed that bringing the Romanian village to the level of highly developed Western farms will take as much as 25 years, but emphasized the ministry has already started information campaigns for farmers and even hired a peasant as his advisor.
Because people in the countryside have little access to the media and are rather skeptical about change, the ministry’s strategy is to inform people step by step about the measures necessary for adjusting to the EU market, Flutur said.
What achievements in Romania’s agriculture in 2005 have made you most proud?
First of all, the reform of land ownership. The package Property-Justice, for which the government took responsibility in June, is the first stage of restitution of agricultural and forest property. We can say that, from the point of view of the legislation, we finalized land restitution this year. Now applying the law and the effective returns are next, which we will finalize by the EU accession deadline.
Secondly, I really want to underline that this year we set the legal bases for the Farmer project. I believe this program will be the most important activity of 2006, just as land ownership was the main theme of 2005.
There are other good things which have been done at the Agriculture Ministry and I have to say that support for mountain areas is one of them. This year we issued a government decision to support mountain areas, consisting of subsidizing milking devices, electric mowing machines and other agricultural equipment. This was a law expected in the mountain counties, which have certain handicaps and which need to be helped in order to develop.
Agriculture is one of the weak points the EU report drew attention to. What exact measures will you take for this sector not to represent a danger for Romania’s accession to the European Union?
I have to say that agriculture is not a sector that can trigger the safeguard clause. There is no reason for Romania to fail to join the EU because of agriculture. But there are things we need to accelerate to be ready by January 1, 2007. We have to take action in two directions: the Agency for Payments and Intervention in Agriculture and the sanitary-veterinary sector. But we need to say that we have the political will and the budgetary resources to solve the problems next year. For example, we will continue hiring people for the Agency for Payments from January 2006 and in March 2006 we will finalize the registration in the Farms’ Register. Moreover, we will identify parcels and add information to our data base during 2006. These are actions with an exact calendar, they are real steps on the accession path.
Concerning the sanitary-veterinary sector, we mainly have to apply measures for disease control on animals and in meat and milk factories where food safety standards are not respected. This sector has a series of problems that have been neglected for years and have now reached a dead end.
But we are determined to promote the necessary legislation, most of it was already promoted this year, and to enforce the implementation of European food safety standards.
We worked a lot to make the owners of meat and milk processing plants aware that high technology has to be used, as we have slowly to improve standards. We are determined to respect the timetable for accession.
One of the problems specified in the EU report was the delay of the chip implanting program for horses and passports for cows. What caused these delays?
The main cause for this delay is the bad situation we inherited from the Social Democrats. There is a trial which has lingered for more than a year. Every time I asked the justice representatives to accelerate this process I have done the same thing constantly.
Nevertheless, we will finalize introducing chips for small animals-pigs, sheep and goats.
What kind of reform is necessary in agriculture to change the Romanian village profoundly, even at a cultural level? How can we create a link between the primitive Romanian village and the highly developed farms in the West?
If we talk about bringing the Romanian village to the level of that in the West, we cannot make this possible overnight. It is a process that will take about 25 years. But we can take the right path, and the first measure towards achieving this was the agricultural life annuity law. Thus, for a life annuity from 50 to 100 euros for a hectare the elderly can give their lands to young people, so that in this way, scattered property will be merged and will be more efficiently tilled.
This fusion of land is a basic condition and in no European country has agriculture become efficient before family farms became predominant. These family farms will have the financial force to buy agricultural equipment and machines, the presence of which in Romania is several times lower than in the West. So everything begins with property.
Most of the people living in rural areas know very little about how their lives will be affected by Romania’s accession to the EU. Moreover, they are often victims of euromyths, such as “there will be no markets in Romania after accession” or “the EU will not let us cultivate vegetables for our own consumption.” What causes this misinformation?
It is harder to get information to the country side because people have little access to the mass media. But a certain interest in finding out new things is also necessary. Poverty enhances a certain skepticism, a certain lack of interest for society’s problems. When you have very little or nothing, you are not very interested in what is happening, because you feel the changes cannot affect you very much. The peasant has to know one thing: nothing will change suddenly. The changes, especially those on the subsistence farms, will be slow. What will change will be the relationship with the market. Everything going to the organized market will gradually be settled. But people will continue slaughtering the pig and cultivating their own piece of land. It is important to offer alternatives to the younger generation so they can have a better life than their parents.
What measures will you take for the changes brought by accession to be known in the rural areas, also?
The information will come with accession. It is simpler to explain to people what will happen to them in the near future than what will happen in a year or two. It is important to know that the information about accession comes gradually, in accordance with necessities. So far we made public what was necessary. I will give you an example: the farms’ register. Starting on October 1, agricultural agents knocked on people’s doors and registered their farms, explaining to them how things stand. Communication comes step by step and is connected with what people are interested in.
You recently said there is a need for a functional business environment in the rural areas. How will the Agriculture Ministry help farmers face a competitive environment?
There is only one answer: forming groups of producers. When farmers realize they have problems with the competition, they will have to associate. There is a SAPARD measure for stimulating producers’ groups and we will also allot funds from the budget for this. I am convinced they will succeed and they should be aware that they have all our support.
In September you said subsistence farms should not be neglected, but helped. How exactly will you help this category of rural citizens?
Support for subsistence farms must primarily be focused on helping the farm move on from this subsistence stage. This is why we launched the Farmer Program. But I admit there will be a large number of farms which will remain subsistence based. It is this that we will fight for in the EU’s decision-making bodies; to have this particularity acknowledged for Romania, a country with a dominant rural area still made up of subsistence farms. After we obtain this acknowledgement, the necessary money will come from the European Union. Meanwhile, the ministry continues to give support to subsistence farms and I remind you of the (fuel) tickets we distributed this spring and fall. The aid will increase after Romania joins the EU.
How do you think agriculture will be described in the EU’s spring report?
I am sure it will be described based on the results of its activity. The November report acknowledged progress and I expect the May 2006 report to do the same thing. We are on the right track and, even if we have arrears for the second half of 2006, I am sure agriculture will get a good grade.
You have announced the launch of the “green offensive” in 2006, a program that would increase the total of forested areas by one percent (approximately 7,000 square kilometers). What does this project consist of?
The national forest fund has decreased since the (1989) Revolution, and natural regeneration processes did not manage to grow back the trees that were cut down. A true green offensive is needed, which means a massive campaign to plant trees. We must make it clear that forest owners, regardless of whether it’s the state, through the National Forest Administration, individual owners or churches, have the obligation to plant trees. Planting trees is not optional and this is why, besides the increase in funds allocated for planting trees, we also ordered sanctions; fines for anybody who does not do it. The state will plant trees on the properties of those who do not plant new tress within two years since they cut down old trees and will send the owners the invoice for the work by mail. We need the forest and we must know how to protect it.
Your name was suggested as a possible next prime minister supported by the president in case of early elections. How do you comment on these statements?
I am a team person and a long-term man. As a team person, I believe in Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu’s team, each has his or her role and they must act according to it. As a long-term man, I have come to the Ministry of Agriculture with certain projects and I want to carry them through, I want to leave something behind me, because positions do not last forever, but what you do stays. I would like at least three things to stay in Romanian agriculture after my term: property restitution, the Farmer Program and the life annuity. If these things remain after me, I will be happy.
What do you want for Romania in 2006?
For the country, I would like it to receive a green light to join the European Union on January 1, 2007.