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Originally published Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 8:58 AM

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Bureaucrats who handle EU's big farm budgets to be sent out to pasture

White-collar bureaucrats handle the biggest chunk of the EU budget — farming — so to make sure they know what's needed, they will be trading in their pinstripes for overalls.

Associated Press Writer

BRUSSELS —

White-collar bureaucrats handle the biggest chunk of the EU budget — farming — so to make sure they know what's needed, they will be trading in their pinstripes for overalls.

In other words, the European Union wants these administrators to get firsthand experience on the farms they subsidize, so they will be sent to work on one for several weeks.

Often reviled as out-of-touch bureaucrats who go straight from university to their EU offices, these staff members will be sent to get their hands dirty in a program being launched next year, EU Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said Wednesday.

"I am definitely in favor of giving possibilities to those that have never been on a farm. They simply don't know how things work," Boel said. "It is definitely not meant to be a punishment, but a possibility to see what is out there."

She became the EU's farm commissioner in 2004 and said her experience on a family farm in Denmark had been vital.

The 1,200 bureaucrats in the EU's farm department oversee by far the largest part of the bloc's budget, €53 billion ($70 billion) in handouts being spent every year to boost the sector.

Farming has been at the heart of the EU since it was founded half a century ago. At first, programs to encourage more output were successful in eliminating shortages left over from World War II.

Afterward, production got out of hand, with the EU being forced to cope with surplus supplies of butter and milk that had to be stored and subsidized to market prices at a great cost to taxpayers.

Recently, the sector has sought to become more competitive in the world by cutting subsidies and trimming its programs of guaranteed prices.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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