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School Fruit Scheme survives yet another year

The now four year old school fruit scheme survives for a new period. Twenty four member states have decided to participate in 2012/2013. Sweden, Finland and the UK have opted out once again.

By Jakob Chor

Money has, again, been set aside to support the intake of fruit amongst school children in the entire EU – almost.

In Randers, Denmark, the scheme is an integrated part of the daily food and health plan that addresses issues such as bad nutrition for school children.

The school, Vesterbakkeskolen, is a municipality school that has selected to participate in the school fruit scheme. According to Vivi Høyer, principal at the school, the scheme is a good way of branding them as a healthy school.

“This fit in to our nutrition plan for the kids. We want to be a healthy school, and the scheme allows us to reach that goal,” she says.

In Denmark, 375 schools out of 2300 schools participate in the scheme or are suitable for receiving the support.
The scheme was meant to be implemented as a permanent part of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy). However the scheme was only prolonged for another year – and not all countries participate. About 500 million Euros are given to agricultural programs, such as School Milk, Social Support, or free meat for socially deprived persons in the EU.

A Danish idea
In 2009, former Danish commissionaire for Agriculture Mariann Fischer Boel with a big smile presented the scheme as a great way of dealing with the bad nutrition in schools all over Europe.

“This will be a major contribution to encourage our young people to eat more of these healthy and tasty products,” she said back then.

The background for the scheme is to be found in the obesity epidemic in Europe. With over five million obese children in 2006 in the EU-25 it was obvious that action was needed. Since then, the European Commission has started several schemes that should address the problem.

90 million Euros were marked for the scheme in order to help the flow of fruit running in schools. In detail each member states gets costs to certain products covered. The Food Ministry in the member state collects information on how many schools that are interested in the scheme.

This information is then forwarded to the Agricultural and Rural Development secretary under the European Commission for reimbursement.

However, an auditor report from October 2011 sows doubt on the fruit scheme. Only 35 percent of the 90 million Euros has actually reached its targets namely fruit for the school children.
There are two reasons for that. Countries volunteer in the program and the money set aside for each member state is not necessarily spent.

Agriculture or scheme
MEP’s admit that the schemes are conducted in order to subsidize farmers in Europe. According to Dan Jørgensen, MEP in the Party of European Socialist (S&D), the scheme is an indirect support to European farmers.

“It is clear that scheme is agricultural subsidies. It is however just a small thing in the big picture”, he says.

That statement is confirmed by Emilie Turunen member of the Green Party in the parliament. Although both groups support the agricultural support they do not think this scheme is adequate and relevant in addressing the obesity issue and unhealthy intake of food amongst youngsters in the EU.

James Nicholson a third term member of the parliament for the EPP group disagrees.

“I think this is a good initiative in order to assure health and good nutrition for kids in Europe. And then it is good for farmers across Europe,” he says.

And exactly EU farmers benefit from the scheme. Technical requirements make it difficult for fruit suppliers outside the EU to deliver fruit for the scheme.

Fruit is healthy, scheme is unhealthy
It is not the first time schemes are discussed. Since early 90s a school milk scheme was introduced and in 2007 it was made a permanent part of the EU-budget. In 2010 and 2011 the European Commission handed out free meals for poor people in all of EU. It was under huge controversy as countries, including Denmark, tried to block the decision. Denmark and other nations implied that it wasn’t an EU matter, arguing that it is the member states responsibility to provide for the poor.

The European Commission has conducted an investigation on how the different projects work and as of that they have appointed an expert committee on school fruit. Bent Egberg Mikkelsen, nutrition expert from Aalborg University, is a part of that committee.

In his opinion, school fruits are a very good way of giving kids a healthy snack in the schools. He knows that there are problems and he would rather see kids eat the fruit as a daily routine without a scheme.

“The scheme is a great opportunity for the member states to actually put healthy nutrition on the agenda. However it should be there already,” he says.

School fruit on the abstract
Back in the parliament, the three MEPs agree that school fruit is only a little thing of a bigger package it isn’t a topic that needs attention.

“Come on. Why care about school fruit? Sometimes things are too small to talk about”, Emilie Turunen says.

But according to Sine Nørholm Just, professor and expert on intercultural communication and the future of the EU, that is a dangerous path to follow.

“The debate will be on certain over-themes but the debate about the things that construct the EU will disappear,” she says.

According to her it could leave a democratic deficit because certain EU issues are more complex and cannot be taken out of the EU-debate under the excuse of “being a part of package”.

“The point is that it removes the focus from what the EU actually does. Instead of discussing agricultural politics we discuss school fruit. Instead of discussing cohesion funds, we discuss youth initiatives,” she says.

The school fruit scheme is prolonged until 2013. The auditor report in 2011 said that less than 15 percent of the fruit was actually handed out as an EU-project. The school fruit program exists because of parental support or government programs. EU covers about 50-75 percent of the expenditure. The rest is covered by parents and member state programs.

An evaluation from 1999 on these sorts of programs taking its starting point in school milk suggests that the milk program should be terminated immediately. But for now the school fruit scheme survives.

Iceland and EU face tricky accession compromise

 

Fisheries is the biggest issue in Iceland's negotiations to join the EU. Photo: Reykjavík, © EC


Low support among the Icelandic people and a difficult compromise on fisheries are among the issues threatening to make Iceland’s road to the EU very hard. Expert deems it unlikely that Iceland will vote to join the Union, unless presented with a lucrative deal

By Mads Nyborg Anneberg

Only one in three Icelanders want to join the EU, according to a recent opinion poll. At the same time, accession negotiations on fisheries are most likely to take place later this year – a delicate issue where Iceland fears giving up sovereignty. But in spite of the gloomy shadows cast upon Iceland’s candidacy, the accession talks go on with the next meeting taking place on March 30.

Iceland is on the fast track in the negotiations because they are already a part of the European Economic Area and Schengen. Eight of 35 chapters of the negotiations to join the EU have been completed. However, the biggest hurdle, the fisheries chapter, is yet to be opened. The negotiating parties are hesitant to predict the outcome of the negotiations, but it does seem that Iceland will be able to get some advantages when it comes to fisheries, which is the backbone of its economy.
“Iceland will join on equal terms, but there will be negotiations as to their individual concerns and priorities,” said Minister of European Affairs of Denmark, who holds the EU presidency, Nikolai Wammen.

Icelanders hesitate about joining EU

67,4 % of the Icelandic population would vote no to EU-membership. That’s the result of an opinion poll made by Capacent Gallup for The Federation of Icelandic Industries released in February. Asked about the issue, Nikolai Wammen said that all negotiations will take place, regardless of any opinion polls.
“The negotiations will have a merit-based approach, and at the end of the day, it will be up to the Icelandic people,” said Wammen.

Icelandic Chief Negotiator in the accession talks, Stefan Haukur Johannesson, said one should be careful in drawing to strong conclusions from opinion polls.
“We don’t get our mandate for the accession talks from opinion polls. In 2009, the Icelandic parliament gave us a mandate to apply and negotiate and it’s by this mandate we are working,” said Johannesson.

However, Mads Christian Dagnis Jensen, PhD with Centre for European Politics at the University of Copenhagen, underlines that numbers that clear will not change overnight.
“When the resistance is so substantial, it will take a long time to alter, unless Iceland gets a really lucrative deal with EU in the accession negotiation,” said Jensen.

Special deal on fisheries seems likely

If not a lucrative deal, it at least seems Iceland will be able to reach a compromise in regards to fisheries.
“We prioritize quality over time, so it very much depends on the willingness to reach the compromise that would reflect the Icelandic specificities and preferences but also will not be contrary to the EU principles,” said EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Stefan Füle.

Wammen chose his words carefully on the matter but did not reject the possibility of a special agreement on fisheries.
“One should notice that there has never been given permanent exceptions to new member states regarding common EU policies, but the EU has done what it could to take individual considerations in the negotiations,” Wammen said.

Stefan Johannesson points to the fact that some of the rules in the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy are designed to suit specific geographical areas.
“Circumstances are also different in Iceland, so we think we need special solutions that recognize and take into account these specificities in Iceland,” said Johannesson.

Mads Christian Dagnis Jensen says it’s not even out of the question that Iceland can get permanent exceptions on areas as fisheries. Scottish MEP for European Conservatives and Reformists and Vice-Chair of Fisheries Committee, Struan Stevenson, however, states very clearly his opposition towards Iceland getting special agreements and opt-outs in particular.
If Iceland opt-out of the Common Fisheries Policy and become a member, I will be asking for Scotland to opt-out as well,” said Stevenson.

National and international resistance

There are circumstances in Iceland’s relations with some member states that make life hard for Iceland.
” UK and the Netherlands are still mad that Iceland chose not to compensate customers of the collapsed Icelandic banks during the beginning of the financial crisis. They can make the process harder, which they also say they intend to,” said Jensen.

Besides, there is also a very current issue aggravating other EU member nations. Iceland negotiates its fisheries quotas with Norway, the Faroe Islands and the EU. However, Iceland  and the Faroe Islands have heavily raised its quotas on mackerel without consent from the other parties. A move that may even trigger EU sanctions.
“I think that this extremely bad behaviour is not the most credible way of asking for membership of the EU. There’s a long way to go, I think, before we can get an accession of Iceland,” said Struan Stevenson.

Within Iceland there is also heavy criticism of EU accession. Not least from The Federation of Icelandic Fishing Vessel Owners, who oppose EU-membership.
“Even if we get a long transition period, that’s not enough. We would still have the inevitable outcome that we would lose control over fisheries,” said Population Ecologist from the Federation, Dr. Kristjan Thorarinsson.

Geopolitics at stake

Even though Iceland is a small country with approximately 300.000 inhabitants, there are still great advantages in sight for the EU if it joins. Naturally, it will be positive for the EU fisheries to include Icelandic territorial waters, but there are other issues at stake as well.
“China is interested in Iceland and its resources, and by having Iceland in the Union, it will have better possibility for geopolitical influence in that area,” said Mads Christian Dagnis Jensen.

Stefan Haukur Johannesson also believes that Iceland will contribute to the Union with knowhow and expertise.
“Fisheries is important for Iceland, and Iceland would be an important member state in regards to fisheries,” said Johannesson.

On Wednesday March 13, the European Parliament discussed the progress of Iceland's accession talks. Commissioner of Enlargement, Stefan Füle, and Danish Minister of European Affairs, Nikolai Wammen, also participated. Photo: Mads Nyborg Anneberg

EU is negotiating a new controversial fishery agreement with Morocco

The European Parliament ended EU’s fishery agreement with Morocco this December. The main reason was that the occupied Western Sahara was dragged into the agreement – an occupation that the EU does not even accept. Now a new agreement is being negotiated and Western Sahara are hoping for better terms.

By Søren Lund Nielsen

Facts
Most of Western Sahara has been under Moroccan control since 1975 but the Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement Polisario Front is working for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco.

In December 2011 the European Parliament decided not to renew their fisheries agreement with Morocco. However, after the rejection of a renewal, the Parliament voted a new resolution through about getting a new agreement. This has led to that the European Council now has given the European Commission a mandate to negotiate a new agreement with the Moroccans.

After 37 years of being under Moroccan occupation, the people of Western Sahara once again finds themselves in a waiting position. They are waiting for the outcome of EU’s newly started negotiations with Morocco. Will a new agreement exclude Western Sahara or will it once again play a forced role?

“It should not include Western Sahara territorial waters in this agreement”, says the Sahrawi Minister for Europe from Western Sahara, Mohamed Sidati. “That is violating international law”.

A better policy
A reform of The Common Fisheries Policy is one of the key topics for the current Danish Presidency of the EU. On this, the external policy regarding EU fisheries beyond EU waters are one of the main elements.

Oliver Drewes who is the Spokesman of Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, confirms that the commission is now engaging with Morocco on the basis of that mandate.

“The new agreement will have to meet international legality, environmental sustainability and economic efficiency”, says Oliver Drewes.

This is what the Danish Presidency has negotiated and what they have has told the Commission to do. Another important issue for the Danish Presidency has been to sign a new free trade agreement on agricultural products between Morocco and the EU. The Danish Minister of European Affairs, Nikolai Wammen, finds both the mandate given to negotiate and the free trade deal very important.

“It’s a very clear sign of the EU to the neighborhood policy, and it’s also a clear indication of our support to the Arab spring.” he says.

Insecurity about who is benefitting
According to Scottish MEP and Senior Vice President of the European Parliaments Fisheries Committee, Struan Stevenson from the European Conservatives & Reformists Group, the agreement has given comfort to the Moroccan government.

“We show that we are prepared to cooperate and that has given them comfort not to sign a deal with for instance China, but to come and talk to us again”, says Struan Stevenson.

He voted for a renewal of the agreement in December and told the Parliament that the agreement was benefitting Western Sahara. A Scottish fisherman working in Western Sahara that he knows opened a processing factory in the city of Dakhla where he was applying 600 Sahrawi people.

“I told the Parliament that if they voted against this agreement being renewed 600 Western Saharan people will lose their jobs over night. But the Parliament listened to all this bullshit about that it was not going to benefit the people, which was all misinformation and lies put about by some politicians who wanted to stab the Moroccans in the back”, says Struan Stevenson.

Swedish MEP Isabella Lövin from the Greens Group is however skeptical about this.

“Of course there are jobs but are the ones working the Sahrawi people or Moroccan occupiers? Until I get some credible evidence preferably from Polisario themselves, I don’t think there is a good argument at all”.

And that is not something she will get in the near future. According to Mohamed Sidati it is not true that 600 Sahrawi people is benefitting from the agreement.

“He is lying to the European Parliament. Did he make any investigation in the field to see who is benefitting from this agreement? Did he meet Sahrawi fishermen? Did he speak to the Sahrawi people who are a victim of human rights violation?” he asks.

A matter of international law
Isabella Lövin has been the rapporteur of the external dimension of the new fisheries reform. She has believed that the interest of Morocco was more to legitimize the occupation of Western Sahara then it was economical.

“Morocco has a very large fishing sector so they could utilize for themselves and they have done that before. I don’t think they really need the money”, she says.

In the mandate it says that international law should be respected. Regarding Western Sahara’s resources, former Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs, Hans Correll’s UN Opinion from 2002 concluded that the selling of Western Sahara’s resources was only legal if the population of Western Sahara agrees to and benefits from it, something a European Parliament Legal Opinion from 2009 and numerous statements from Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Western Sahara’s government in exile, conclude they do not.

“I’m quite sure that Morocco will try to prove that it comes to the benefit of people living in Western Sahara, and that there will be nothing about the wishes of the Sahrawi people”, says Isabella Lövin.

EU has to be careful
Sahrawi Minister for Europe, Mohamed Sidati, states that the agreements are not at all benefitting for the Sahrawi people.

“The Moroccans are doing what they want. They are not interested in showing Europe or anybody else how they are exploding this. It’s a matter of bribing and corruption in this cost. There is no control; there is no mechanism to be sure that it is Sahrawian working there. The Sahrawian are out of this issue.” he says.

Mohamed Sidati asks EU to be very careful when it comes to Western Sahara because the status of the territory is not determined yet.

“It should be determined by the Sahrawi themselves.  It didn’t take place yet so let’s respect the international legality. If they want to fish in the Western Sahara waters they can discuss with the Sahrawi themselves to see what is possible. But the EU and Morocco are dealing with something that doesn’t belong to Morocco. International Court of Justice was very clear about that”, he says.

Oliver Drewes doesn’t know how long time it will take before there is a result of the negotiations, but if an agreement is landed without an exclusion of Western Sahara the Polisario Front will speak its case.

“The Sahrawi people will ask for damages and will challenge this agreement everywhere, if it takes place. The EU shouldn’t be a hostile of the Moroccan, Spanish and French police”, he says.