To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the EU Special Accession Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development. 
The EU Special Accession Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (SAPARD) is available to the 10 EU new member states and candidate countries from central and eastern Europe1. Its objectives are similar to those of the rural development programmes in the 15 existing member states.The programme has provided a valuable opportunity to the candidates in the practical application of rural development policies and EU financial systems. The accreditation process for the newly established Paying Agencies in particular has enabled them to experience and satisfy EU audit procedures.Defra Ministers and officials have taken every opportunity to urge the applicants to make full use of the funds available. Defra is a strong supporter of rural development programmes as a mechanism for supporting rural and farming areas and very much welcomes this chance for the candidates to benefit from these systems in advance of their membership. Although we have not commissioned any specific assessment of the progress of SAPARD expenditure, my officials attend meetings of the European Commission Regulatory Committee, which reviews and approves the programmes of the countries concerned.
1New member states due to join May 2004: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia. Candidates due to join in 2007: Bulgaria and Romania.