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EU nations urged to save food banks for Europe's poorest

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(BRUSSELS) - With winter just around the corner, the European Union executive Monday urged member states to save a food aid programme delivering meals to 18 million of Europe's poorest.

Europe's commissioner for social affairs, Laszlo Andor, outlined a compromise proposal to social affairs ministers from the 27-nation bloc that may avoid slashing the aid by 80 percent from next year, as urged by austerity-driven nations.

"We hope very much that this proposal will take the debate forward so we can have an early decision," said a commission spokesman, Roger Waite. The outcome is expected at talks October 20 between EU agriculture ministers.

Currently, charities and food banks are incensed that a 480-million-euro budget to supply food to 18 million Europeans too poor to afford proper meals is to be cut to only 113.5 million from next year.

The scheme was set up in 1987 under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) 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.

Stocks have fallen in recent years, forcing the use of EU money instead to buy supplies on the market to feed the hungry -- a move that has angered some EU nations.

Germany, along with Britain, the Czech republic, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, have argued against the use of CAP funds for the scheme, sayig national governments should pay for their poor, rather than using EU funds.

The new proposal outlined by Andor circumvents the court ruling by placing the scheme under the combined responsibility of farm policy and social cohesion policy, which aims to combat social differences between the 27 member states.

Andor said Monday that he was confident the proposal would convince reluctant EU states and thus "avoid drastic cuts in the resources of organisations who help the most destitute."

Agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos too urged governments "to take responsibility for the millions of deprived awaiting a decision before winter."

A draft of the proposal says the scheme "should continue to guarantee the aims of the CAP. At the same time, it should also aim to strengthen the Union's social cohesion."

"By reducing the food insecurity of the most deprived .. and contributing to reduce public intervention stocks, the programme supports the fulfilment of all these objectives."

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