Related News

Home » World

EU OKs millions for dairy farmers amid protests

THE European Union agreed yesterday to give the dairy sector an extra €280 million (US$420 million) in special aid, caving in to farmers' vocal demands in an effort to quell a season of unrest in agriculture.

The news came as angry farmers pelted riot police with eggs and buckets of milk and choked traffic with tractors in Luxembourg, one of Europe's financial capitals. Protesters even lobbed burning tires into the EU compound where the 27-nation bloc's farm ministers were meeting Monday, shrouding the area in smoke.

"We are not radicals," said Erwin Schoepges, a Belgian milk farmer at the protest. "Dairy farmers haven't made money for a year. Many are crying at home."

EU Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said the €280 million she proposed was her "contribution to try to set an end to these protesters in the streets."

But Fischer Boel said she was forced "to empty my pockets" to meet the demands of 21 of 27 member states seeking some €300 million in further subsidies. France and Germany pressed hard for the measures, while Britain and the Netherlands opposed the new aid.

Farmers later welcomed the breakthrough, especially since it also included rules that could limit milk production at a national level to push up prices.

"It is a victory. Our fight is bearing fruit for our milk farmers," said Romuald Schaber, the leader of the dairy protest movement. "At this time we are all fighting for survival. We need higher milk prices."

Overall though, different EU farming groups continued to demand more subsidies and more protective measures.

The European Union has been trying for years to wean farmers off subsidies to face the world markets on their own, yet a global drop in demand amid the credit crunch has caused prices to plummet. Facing increasing debts and bankruptcies and producing food at a loss, EU farmers have grown increasingly militant this fall.

The hundreds of billions of euros that EU governments have spent bailing out banks and carmakers in the last year has made the situation sting even harder.

"They have found money to bail out banks and also to bail out the automobile industry. Surely the agricultural industry and the food industry across Europe is every bit as important," said Padraig Walshe, the head of the European farm federation COPA.

"We would have liked a billion," said Gerd Sonnleitner, head of German farm federation Deutscher Bauernverband.

"(But) when it comes to agriculture, they talk about financial discipline," he added. "That is an immoral policy."

Over a million EU dairy farmers, of 12 million overall, now produce €41 billion in milk a year. Beyond the farms themselves, the milk processing sector in the EU employs some 400,000 people and produces €120 billion worth of products, everything from pungent Camembert to supermarket milk by the crate.

The lobby packs a punch. Over the past weeks and months, they have torched bales of hay in the streets of Brussels, Luxembourg and Paris and sprayed truckloads of milk onto fields - all while lobbying countries like France and Germany, where agriculture is still politically sacred.

Schaber said dairy farmers already had lost up to €15 billion in the credit crunch.

"That shows that 280 million euros won't get us far," he said.

Monday's protest by some 2,000 farmers and 400 tractors paled in comparison to the tens of thousands of farmers and the violence that marked huge rallies in the 1960s and 1970s, which set EU farm policies that backed near-unlimited production at guaranteed prices.

Still, authorities had mobilized one policeman for every two farmers on Monday, underscoring the reputation of such protests.

Yet while Monday's concession could ease the strain on dairy farmers, the same financial squeeze has also struck the cereal, sugar beet, pork and beef sectors. They could now be left in the cold because the commitment to milk farmers in next year's farm and rural development budget of €52 billion has reduced the chances for other rescue plans.

Despite the new money, EU farmers and many member states still insist on some protective measures to keep them insulated from fluctuating world food prices - a longtime policy EU lawmakers are trying to unwind.

In Europe, strict regulation with high guaranteed income after World War II turned the memories of wartime hunger into an overproduction nightmare that created warehouses full of butter mountains and lakes of milk and wine.

Starting in the 1990s, the EU set out to wean itself of subsidies by cutting the automatic link between funds and production and limiting the use of quotas to keep prices artificially high.

Even if the EU made a concession Monday, the EU farm chief said reforms would move ahead.

"Nobody wants to return to the old-fashioned regime of the sixties and seventies," said Fischer Boel.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend