The EU financial watchdog, the Court of Auditors, has rebuked the EU Commission for its handling of the sugar regime. “High prices are imposed on the EU consumer”, it says, and accuses the Commission for a cover-up on certain information, which could be the reason why the disputed sugar regime has never been changed.
In a special report, the Court of Auditors virtually takes the EU Commission to the cleaners over its handling of the controversial subsidies and regulations system. A few quotes from the report:
“The Commission did not give adequate information justifying its proposal for the continuation of the quota arrangements”.
“There was no assessment of the consequences of the regime for the consumer.”
“The Commission’s minimum beet price proposals are not based on independently verified information on the processing margin”.
“Although the Commission has information available, it did not present an assessment of the likely consequences of price proposals”.
“There is no coherent strategy for the controls over sugar production and storage and there is no guidance on good practice to be followed or minimum standards to be attained”.
“High prices are imposed on the EU consumer; there is a structural production surplus and a highly regulated industry with little competition”.
The EU sugar regime has hardly been a sweet and clean business over the years. Estimates in e.g. Dutch food journal Levensmiddelenkrant suggest that EU consumers pay three times as much as the world market price, under the current regulations. The Committee of Industrial Sugar Users has cried foul over the system several times and called for reforms, backed by several EU member states, and even several members of the powerful EU Commission. But so far, opposition to any reform has tenaciously barred every attempt to do away with the system.
In October, Commissioner Franz Fischler put forward a proposal with very modest changes, which was rejected by the member states, prompting the then-chairman Jean Glavany, Agriculture Minister of France, to conclude: “It is not possible to reach an agreement at the moment”.
But the report from the Court of Auditors now suggests that the majority of member states in favour of the regime may have based their decision on faulty and even biased information. Given the outcry from sugar users, from the food industry to consumers, this revelation is highly embarrassing.
As things stand at the moment, tariffs on imported sugar will be abolished successively between 2006 and 2008.
The full Court of Auditors report can be read on http://www.eca.eu.int/EN/reports_opinions.htm
By Jonathan Newton, reporter for Foodwire