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The EU or the Christmas Pig

"We must see to it that the pig--this animal that we, the Romanian nation, cannot afford to live without--is not wiped out." So a socialist deputy in Romania's Parliament exclaimed in panic a few weeks ago. "Within a year, 4.5 million pigs will be killed, but chickens will still enter the European Union before we do," chirped the president of Romania's Pig Breeders Association.

Across Romania, fear is growing of a looming porcine genocide as the country prepares to negotiate its way into the EU. For the fact is that most pigs are bred and slaughtered here in a way that fails to meet EU standards, and no one is prepared to invest the money needed to get our piggeries up to Union levels. But will our beloved pig be permitted to put the supreme national interest in jeopardy?

Romania is due to end its membership negotiations with the EU in 2004. Of course, we have lots of problems that the EU wants to see resolved: unfettered corruption, poor public administration, a justice system that makes a mockery of impartiality, and an economy which, despite some progress, has not yet been declared a "functioning market" by the European Commission. But it is agriculture, and in particular the Romanian pig, that is causing the severest headaches in Bucharest and in Brussels.

Although Romania is just a few hundred miles away from the EU countries, it is a few centuries away in terms of agriculture. Some 40% of our population lives in rural areas, with 80% of the land divided into small lots.