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Petition Campaign To Use EU Agriculture Subsidies To Fight HIV/AIDS In Africa

In Britain, a new campaign is being launched to transfer over five and a half billion dollars in European agriculture subsidies to the battle against HIV/AIDS.

Money from the Common Agriculture Policy, known as CAP, currently subsidizes large farms in the European Union. Now, 22 former British ministers and more than 100 Members of Parliament, with the grassroots support of local churches, are circulating petitions. They’re trying to gather enough signatures to force the EU to transfer the funds to fighting AIDS in developing countries.

One of the campaign’s organizers is British Member of Parliament Michael Wills. From North Swindon, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the agricultural subsidies.

Mr. Wills says, “The European Union has for many years operated a policy to support agriculture known as the Common Agriculture Policy. It’s enormously expensive. It takes up something like half of the European Union’s budget. And it is a very bad policy. It is enormously damaging to developing countries because it shuts them out of European markets. And in the past it’s dumped subsidized food in developing countries. It’s very expensive for European taxpayers and consumers.”

Another organizer of the campaign is British MP Gisela Stuart of Birmingham. She says, “It (CAP) doesn’t serve the farmers of Europe well anymore, which it was designed to do so 50 years ago. And what’s even worse, it’s got a disproportionate effect, particularly on the Third World, where because we are protectionists in our imports and sometimes dump our surpluses on them, places like Africa…so it doesn’t do Europe and good and it doesn’t do the rest of the world any good either.”

A new constitution being considered for the EU contains a provision for such a petition drive. But even if a new constitution is not ratified, Ms. Stuart says one million signatures from many countries would be hard to ignore. Mr. Wills says the current subsides don’t help Europe’s small farmers “because the bulk of the budget goes to farmers who are relatively well off. Something like a quarter of the budget goes to only two percent of farms.” He adds, “There is a crisis in sub-Saharan Africa with AIDS. And it’s a crisis that confronts all of us. It’s something in which we all have a part to play in tackling. The key to this is money. We know how to keep people alive.”

Ms. Stuart wants to target some of the money for AIDS orphans “because AIDS doesn’t just strike the young and old. It strikes that group in the middle, which should be looking after the young and old.” Both expect a tough political fight over the agricultural subsidies.