Estonia has repeated a plea to the European Union to keep an impending fine for surplus sugar stocks low, arguing that stiff punishment would dent the EU's good image among Estonians, press reports said Tuesday.
"The popularity of the EU has increased among Estonians since accession (last May)", Estonian Prime Minister Juhan Parts said in a letter to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, which was published in the Estonian press Tuesday.
"I am deeply concerned that the image of the EU may get a serious backlash when we will have to pay the fine for surplus sugar stocks," Parts said in the letter.
The EU has threatened to fine Estonia about 850 million Estonian kroons (55 million euros, 72 million dollars) for stockpiling 91,650 tonnes of sugar prior to joining the EU on May 1 last year.
The EU decided to keep checks on sugar stocks and fine countries holding big surpluses to prevent companies stocking up on and then selling EU subsidised sugar that was imported before accession.
In his letter, Parts asked the EU to take into account that the surplus was mainly created by private consumers worried about sugar price increases after accession.
Private consumers bought 63,000 tonnes of sugar of the total 91,650 tonnes that made up the surplus stock in Estonia, the letter says, adding that the amount in private hands should not be treated as speculative stocks.
Estonia has proposed to pay a fine for the remaining 28,650 tonnes of sugar, which were imported prior to EU accession by companies.
Last month, the Estonian agriculture ministry sent a similar letter to the European Commission, saying most of the excess sugar was created by residents who stockpiled sugar to make jam and syrup ahead of the Baltic state's admission to the EU.