The terms under which the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is applied for Central and East European Countries (CEECs) remains a sticking point in accession talks. The so-called first wave' CEECs ­ Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Estonia ­ are scheduled to join on January 1, 2003. EU commissioner in charge of enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, said in Brussels this week it would be "premature" to set a target date for full access to CAP funding until a further assessment in November. Needless to say, this approach has drawn fierce criticism from frustrated East Europeans who want immediate access to direct aid payments for the EU's farm budget of over £26bn. Poland, in particular, is keen to have large scale aid payments now. The country has more dairy farmers than the rest of the EU15, most of whom have two or three cows. Polish milk prices are well below intervention rates that western countries could survive. All the CEECs would expect derogations for their production standards across large swathes of the CAP. The CAP is the largest single item on the EU's £100bn total budget ­ and one which in the past has used the so called clawback mechanism to recycle allocations and conceal overshoots. With the failure of farm ministers to agree even the modest cuts proposed in the Agenda 2000 programme developed by the Commission, the EU is struggling with its existing commitments. It is not well placed to take on open ended commitments outside the current EU15 in 2003, let alone now. The Commission's farm assessment report in November will come weeks before the final December deadline for foreign ministers to agree enabling legislation. This will need to be in place by the end of 2002. {{PROVISIONS }}