Farmers told to expect a tougher ride

Farmers were told to expect a rougher ride as subsidies are phased out. The warning came from Lars Hooelgard, deputy director general director of the EU's agricultural directorate.

The health check of the EU's common agricultural policy (CAP) in 2008, he said, will not just be about taking blood pressure, he said, it will be about farmers and "that's going to be tough on some stakeholders".

"Do not forget," he told delegates "that this health check, of £30bn a year, was instigated by Tony Blair who has always been critical of the CAP - but, if he is replaced by Gordon Brown, farmers can expect an even rougher time." And he warned they should not expect EU ministers to defend their corner either.

The change from subsidising crops and livestock to a single annual farm payment, based on conservation and good farming, was a a good idea.

But it involves national contributions and Hoelgaard said: "Ministers of agriculture are increasingly weak. They cannot argue with other ministers. It's a penny pinching exercise with finance ministers having the upper hand."

A large part of the problem in the struggle for funds was because decisions were made in October 2002 based on 15 EU member states and there were now 25. "From January there will be 27 and the budget is tight," he said.

Questions could also be asked about taxpayers supporting farmers for not producing, something which is now possible with single annual farm payments.

"Brussels is going to get out of your lives," he said. But a lot can happen before it does.