Summary:European Union Foreign Ministers will be getting together at Schloss-Rienhartshausen, Germany, over the week-end of March 13 and 14 for an informal General Affairs Council of Ministers. The meeting will be trying to tie up the loose ends on Agenda 2000 after the meeting of the Committee of Member States' Permanent Representatives to the EU (COREPER) on March 10. The meeting is the brainchild of Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, who is anxious for progress to be made on a series of points in the negotiations on structural and budgetary reforms ahead of the final General Affairs Council on March 21 before the European Council in Berlin on March 24/25. It was unclear as to whether the resignation on March 11 of Germany's Finance Minister, Oskar Lafontaine, would have any influence on the German Presidency's preparations for this meeting.

The political agreement on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy reached by the Farm Council in the early hours of March 11 should serve to enliven the forthcoming Foreign Ministers' discussions. The agricultural compromise thrashed out after weeks of on-and-off Council meetings means there will be a budgetary shortfall of around Euro 7 billion compared with that foreseen in the revised negotiating package. The latter merely serves to confirm the earlier stance of a majority of EU Member States and German Chancellor, Gerhard Schr"der. Thus, the document submitted to the General Affairs Council sets an annual ceiling on farm spending of Euro 40.5 billion (excluding inflation indexation) for the period 2000-2006 (under Heading 1 - Agriculture). It provides that, if expenditure exceeds that limit in the initial years of the 7-year period, the ceiling will be revised downwards in subsequent years, with a view to attaining the average initially foreseen. The range of subjects to be discussed on March 13 and 14 suggests, somewhat belatedly, two options for the Farm Council to give it some room for manoeuvre: on the one hand, a declining sliding-scale for direct aid payments to farmers, the benefits of which would be allocated to rural development; and on the other hand, the allocation of this new type of aid will be subject to a partial refund from the Community's General Budget.

With regard to Structural measures (Heading 2), the German...

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