SLOVAKIA will receive €397.1 million in rural development aid from the European Union from 2004 till 2006. Annual payments of €119.5 million (2004), €133.1 million (2005), and €144.5 (2006) were fixed this month by Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, and Fisheries.
"This decision is another confirmation that substantial amounts of EU money will be invested in targeted and tailor-made rural development programmes," said Fischler.
The funds should help farmers in Slovakia modernise, restructure, and meet EU production standards.
"They will also contribute to socially and ecologically sustainable development in rural areas," said Fischler.
The Commission fixed EU funding for rural development in new member states at a total of €5.76 billion. Poland is set to receive a lion's share of €2.87 billion.
Will Slovakia's €400 million be enough? Ľubomír Miček from Slovakia's EU representation in Brussels helped thrash out the final agreement.
"Negotiations were tough. Slovak farmers actually expected to get funding on the same basis as other EU countries - and not only 25 percent. After all, the prices for land, energy, and machines are increasing all the time in Slovakia and they are not so different from other EU countries. Seeds and machinery cost the same - and that's the major part of a farmer's expenses." Miček points out that Slovak farmers will be competing with their Austrian counterparts, yet will receive less EU funding.
"Time will tell if EU funding will be enough. But the budget has been made, the accession treaties signed. We have to work with what we have."
Funds will be accessible from May 2004, when Slovakia accedes to the EU, to cover up to 80 percent of the cost of a given project. Measures such as early retirement schemes for Slovak farmers and support for less favoured areas like the far east of Slovakia and areas with environmental problems are eligible.
Other measures include agro-environment and animal welfare schemes, reforesting agricultural land, restructuring semi-subsistence farms, and setting up producer groups and food quality schemes. Agriculture Minister Zsolt Simon is confident that Slovakia will meet EU agricultural standards by the date of entry to the union.
According to the minister, nearly half of the 1,145 Slovak food-processing firms criticised by the EU last year for failing to meet hygienic standards have now met the required criteria.
Last year was difficult for the country's 65,000 farmers, with drought and sharp falls in prices provoking revenue losses of €142.9 million, according to the Slovak Agriculture and Food Chamber.