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Sarkozy insists EU must protect food aid for poor

PARIS, Sept 20 – France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy demanded Tuesday that Europe live up to its “responsibility” to preserve a food aid programme delivering meals to the continent’s poorest.

The French leader was speaking as European Union farm ministers met in Brussels to debate whether to slash a 480-million-euro budget to supply food to the needy through food banks and charities to only 113.5 million.

“It would be unacceptable for Europe to abandon the weakest of its citizens,” Sarkozy said in a statement, urging member states to find a way of saving the threatened programme before the end of the year.

“In the face of economic crisis, this programme is tangible proof of the principle of European solidarity,” Sarkozy argued. “It is Europe’s responsibility to guarantee financing.”

The scheme was set up in 1987 under the Common Agricultural Policy and came under threat in April when the EU Court of Justice, ruling on a request from Germany, said the programme could only use supplies from EU food stocks.

But stocks have fallen in recent years following reforms to the bloc’s farm support scheme to make it more market-oriented, forcing the use of EU money to buy supplies on the market to feed the hungry.

In July, European lawmakers urged member states — many of which have begun domestic austerity programmes — not to slash aid to 240 charities and food banks that help feed the hungry in 19 of the 27 member states.

Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden oppose moves to find an interim solution enabling continued delivery of the aid within a formula acceptable to the court, diplomats say.

The top recipients of the aid are Italy, Poland and France.

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