Proposals by the European Commission to reform the Common Market Organisation to reduce the quantity of surplus unmarketable citrus fruit have been attacked by producers as "partial and insufficient".

The commission was due to report on the fruit and vegetables regime by the end of the year but has brought forward a number of reforms as a matter of 'urgency' following complaints by growers.

In particular there have been protests by the tomato processing industry that the present scheme is too complex and bureaucratic to work effectively.

Franz Fischler, the Commissioner for Agriculture, is now proposing that the present quota system for processed tomatoes is replaced by the same kind of threshold mechanism used for processes peaches, pears and citrus fruits.

In future aid will be paid directly to producer organisations and not to the processors and will be fixed indefinitely and not for each marketing year.

The aid threshold for tomatoes, pears, oranges, lemons and small citrus fruits will be raised by 10% but the amount of aid will be reduced to ensure budget neutrality.

In order to promote efficient marketing, the quantity that can be withdrawn from the market at the EU's expense will be reduced by a further 5% beyond already planned reductions.

Fischler says this is necessary "as reduced levels of aid in recent years resulting from overshoot of the threshold has made withdrawal an attractive option for producer organisations.

Commission officials told just-food.com the twin objectives of the reforms were to simplify the present excessively complicated regimes and to carry out the provisions of the Agenda 2000 farm reforms that are designed to improve the competitiveness of EU farmers.

There would be no overall change in the amount of aid devoted to the sector but resources would be re-directed.

"We want to make a larger quantity of tomatoes eligible for aid while at the same time decreasing the aid level and, in line with the Agenda 2000 farm policy reforms we want to get away from the situation where the EU agricultural organisations took a dim view of the reforms, blaming the commission for not drawing up a comprehensive analysis of the sector," said a CMO official.

The organisation of EU agricultural organisations, COPA, took a dim view of reforms, blaming the commission for not drawing up a comprehensive analysis of the sector saying the present CMO created in 1997 has not attained its target of concentrating supply in the producer organisations to strengthen the producers and to enable them to deal with the increasingly concentrated demand of the supermarkets and the processing industry.

According to COPA the single ceiling to be established for EU aid to the operational funds were "insufficient".

COPA rejected the proposal to abolish the minimum price mechanism for processed tomatoes, peaches and pears and said it opposed the plan to reduce citrus fruit withdrawals.

"This sets a dangerous precedent for the abolition of the withdrawal mechanism which must operate as a safety net in response to short term crisis situations and for the stabilisation of the markets," said COPA.

The commission has attempted to ensure that no single EU member state suffers as a result of the reforms and the brunt of the changes will be felt in the leading tomato and citrus fruit growing countries; Italy, Greece and Spain as well as Portugal and France.

For relatively small producers like the UK the main significance is in the proposed single ceiling on aid payments under the fruit and vegetable regime.

The UK's National Farmers' Union has asked for a set ceiling of 4.5% and according to an NFU spokesman this was "welcomed, but we'll make representations to get the figure raised."

The NFU also welcomed the proposal to move away from a quota to a threshold system for aid payments.

According to the spokesman the threshold will be set for each individual member state rather than on a community wide basis, so if one country over runs it will have to pay the penalty rather than it being shared among other countries as at present.