Plenty of fudge sauce

By Robert Sturdy MEPIN recent weeks Brussels, London and Geneva seem to have been over-run by fudge, or rather fudges. Whether it is the reform of the sugar regime, the shambolic handling of the EU budget or Peter Mandelson's dark arts in world trade negotiations, there seems to me to be more fudging going on than ever before.

By Robert Sturdy MEP

IN recent weeks Brussels, London and Geneva seem to have been over-run by fudge, or rather fudges. Whether it is the reform of the sugar regime, the shambolic handling of the EU budget or Peter Mandelson's dark arts in world trade negotiations, there seems to me to be more fudging going on than ever before.

The attempt to try to please everyone by blurring boundaries, saying one thing and doing another, has ended up creating a situation of confusion and instability which benefits no-one. It is not surprising that politicians are not trusted when it is so hard to know who to believe.

I have stood up for East Anglia's sugar producers in the European Parliament, not because the sugar regime doesn't need reforming, but because it is clear to anyone who knows about farming that these proposals were not thought through. We risk losing a valuable industry with thousands of jobs in our region for no good reason.


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Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel told me that she would, if necessary, sit on Mandelson's knee until she'd got a fair deal for European farmers. Then suddenly she announced what the reforms would be before the Parliament had had time to vote on its report. Rather than having an open debate about it, as we did in the Agriculture Committee, EU government's met in secret to hammer out a deal.

The EU always gets blamed for being undemocratic, but it is our governments which keep it that way. What is the point of having an Agriculture Committee if it is ignored? Maybe the Commissioner should spend less time on New Labour knees and listen to experts instead.

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Tony Blair came to the Parliament in June and gave a brilliant speech about the 21st century. He said the rebate wouldn't go anywhere unless the French agreed to reform their inefficient agriculture sector. And then, last week he wandered round Eastern Europe trying to explain why he was giving away much of the rebate and cutting funding to the EU's poorest members. Nice one Mr Blair.

Meanwhile, his old friend Peter Mandelson has been spinning himself into a frenzy. To Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) campaigning for "trade justice", he says he is "an NGO man through and through", to business he is pro-free trade, and then last week in the Agriculture Committee he said he was pro-agriculture. I've been working with him for over a year and I still am no closer to knowing what he actually believes.

Whatever your view is of Margaret Thatcher, at least you knew what she thought. I don't pretend these problems are easily solved. Clever people are working very hard to find solutions, and I do not doubt any of their good intentions. The fact of the matter is, however, that what everyone wants - a fair deal on sugar, the budget and world trade talks - are being lost in a sea of fudge.

Robert Sturdy is a Conservative Euro MP for the East of England. He can be contacted by e-mail at rsturdy@europarl.eu.int.

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