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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    FRI, 08 MAR 1996 22:25:21 GMT

    Slovene Agriculture and the European Union

    MORE PROS THAN CONS

    Ljubljana, February 27, 1996

    An interview with Franz Fischler, European Commissar for agriculture who is an Austrian by birth, was published in the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche in the end of February. In this conversation, Mr. Fischler states his opinion that the two most likely candidates for membership in the European Union among the former socialist countries are Czech Republic and Slovenia. As concerning Slovenia, this is not surprising, since, according to the latest data, among all the mentioned countries, it has the highest gross product per capita, and according to the same data, Slovene standard of living is already higher than Greek for instance, and Greece is already a member of the EU. But, with its agriculture, Slovenia has reached neither Greece nor numerous other countries of the Union, and after all it is agriculture that concerns Mr. Fischler.

    To be honest, Slovene peasants are not very enthusiastic about Slovenia joining the European Union, because according to what they think, a lot of things will change for the worse for them. Similar complaints were heard two and a half years ago on the other side of the Alps, when the Austrians were getting ready to join the Union. But Slovenia, which has set reception in the family of European countries as its main objective, has decided to provide arguments in favour and against possible joining of the Union from the aspect of domestic agriculture, so experts from various competent institutes started working.

    Their main conclusion is that a lot remains to be done in Slovenia in this sphere, because Slovene agriculture lags behind development of European countries both by the structure of estates and by the composition of products. Slovene estates are twice smaller than Austrian on the average, and four times smaller than the average estate in EU states. Even Poland has larger estates, which could be the only comparable Eastern- European country. Such small acrage of Slovene arable land is the result not only of the former socialist limitations of estates with the so-called land maximum, but also of configuration of the ground in Slovenia which conditions small areas for cultivation. Half of Slovenia is hilly, and even before the Second World War, mostly small farms were predominant here. Two thirds of arable land are in the hands of small farms ranging from two to five hectares or five to ten hectares at the most. If this is compared with the data of the EU, it shall be seen that three quarters of the cultivated land there are owned by farmers who possess 20 or more hectares, out of which half exceed 50 hectares.

    Although it is hard to compare prices of agricultural products in Slovenia with those in the EU, the authors of the investigation claim that the prices of these products on the average are lower in Slovenia than in the European community. For instance, barley, corn, milk and beef are cheaper in Slovenia, prices of sugar beet and chicken are on the same level as those in the EU, while porklings, oil, eggs and wheat are more expensive. Despite the fact that the economic status of some agricultural producers would deteriorate after joining the European Union, introduction of joint rules of the game would in general introduce better order into the market of Slovene agriculture and better protection of the farmers. The assessments show that income of Slovene peasants could increase by as much as 40 per cent, and even more significant is the fact that this could occur primarily in cattle raising which is one of the major branches of Slovene agriculture, as well as in fruit- and grape-growing.

    Therefore, joining the European Union in the sphere of agriculture is also swarming with pros and cons. But, all those who are acquainted with these issues, as in the first place authors of the mentioned analysis, claim that it would be pure demagogy to link destruction of Slovene estates with its reception in the EU. As one of the authors of the study on reception of Slovenia in the EU and its effects on agriculture, Dr. Emil Erjavec says, it is far more realistic to forecast that by far more estates would be ruined if Slovenia did not join the Union than otherwise. Namely, with its small, fragmented estates, (old) age distribution of the peasants, low productivity and all the other problems, Slovene agriculture simply will not be able to cope with the modern trends in European agriculture, regardless of whether Slovenia will become a member of the Union or not.

    Janja Klasinc