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At the end of a three day conference held by the European Commission in Ireland more than 500 delegates from throug...
At the end of a three day conference held by the European Commission in Ireland more than 500 delegates from throughout the EU agreed a statement calling for greater emphasis on rural policy, reports BBC Radio 4's Farming Today programme.

If they get want they want, rural development will move to the centre of agricultural policy with the people involved given a much greater say in decision-making.

Conference chairman Lord Plumb, UK MEP and former president of the National Farmers' Union, presented the meeting's deliberations - now called the Cork Declaration - to agricultural commissioner Franz Fischler. It calls for more focus on rural development and for official recognition that farming alone cannot support a thriving countryside.

Lord Plumb explained: 'This recognition that, first of all, agricultural policy is changing; recognition that there has to be diversification in the countryside; recognition that structurally farming is changing as a whole and, therefore, it's a question of income for those who live in the countryside'.

Mr Fischler makes no secret of his enthusiasm for rural development and some cynics suggest he will use it, along with the demands of GATT [now the World Trade Organisation] as justification for cutting farm prices. But when he talks of a rural development policy Mr Fischler insists this can dovetail with rather than take over from the Common Agricultural Policy.

He commented: 'I think it can and I think it is necessary if we are convinced an integrated approach is the only right approach for the future. But it doesn't mean at the same time that we wouldn't need further development of the CAP. I think we need both.

'I think we need CAP and a policy for the rural areas'.

With the size of the European Union budget being scrutinised closely as many countries try to meet convergence criteria for entry to the single European currency, the question of funding for rural development is critical.

Lord Plumb commented: 'I think we can satisfy them that as far as the overall budget for agriculture is concerned we still should have sufficient resources to put into this area, although of course one very, very blackspot is BSE. That is costing money and we cannot ignore that fact.

'If it were not for that then I would be very optimistic about getting a decision on this very quickly'.

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