Police use water cannon on farmers at EU protest

8 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

EU announces €500m aid package for farmers.

Burning tyres sent plumes of black smoke into the air just metres from where EU Agriculture Ministers were meeting and police in riot gear held back thousands of farmers angry at falling prices for their produce. The sounds were deafening as the protestors threw fire crackers and honked the horns of their massive tractors and lorries that blocked most of the streets around Brussels’ EU quarter. An estimated 6,000 farmers, including members of the Irish Farmers’ Association and Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association, brought central Brussels to a standstill on Monday as more than 2,000 tractors parked in the roads leading up to the Schumann roundabout in front of the European Council headquarters.

Dutch police in full-body riot gear reinforced their Belgian counterparts, who closed off entrances to the conference site with barbed-wire barricades. In a tense standoff, farmers from across the 28-nation EU pelted police with eggs and sprayed them with hay before they were drenched in return by a water cannon.

However, a return to the past with the EU increasing the price of dairy produce they take into storage was ruled out by the European Commission that argued it would not help, especially in the longer term. In a building close by, European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen announced the support plan, which seeks to immediately ease the debt load of farmers, many of whom are selling milk below production prices. Instead, farmers can look forward to getting 70% rather than the normal 50% of their direct aid payments next month, and 85% rather than the usual 75% in area and animal related payments for rural development to ease cash flow. European Commission vice-president Jyrki Katainen, who represented Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan who was unable to attend the meeting due to illness, described the package as a “robust and decisive response” to the price drop that has beset the dairy industry in particular. The market has become oversupplied since a system of quotas was reformed this year and some markets were closed off. “The milk price is under or around 28 cents (per liter, about 0.2 gallons).

The €500 million fund is being taken from fines or “super-levies” imposed on farmers for over-quota production, and will be used to boost income. There will be €500m for other measures with about four fifths for the dairy farmers — to be divided out between the member states who will then distribute it according to criteria to be worked out over the next few weeks. The biggest Irish issue is a drop of around a quarter in the price farmers are getting for milk over the past nine months, despite the fact that the price to the consumer remains the same, increasing profits for the retailers. The head of the EU farming federation Copa-Cogeca, Pekka Pesonen, said that “an aid package of 500 million euros is nowhere enough to compensate farmers for the loss” of the Russian export market, which is closed off because of a ban. Farmers have historically been protected against volatility in market prices by EU policies that sought to guarantee them a fair living in return for steadfast and plentiful production.

IFA president Eddie Downey also demanded a strong declaration that Europe ban below-cost selling of food and address what he said was excessive input costs for farmers. Mr Coveney said the medium and long-term market observation and intervention proposals should do something to improve the situation where a smaller and smaller percentage of the price paid by consumers is going to the producer. However, he said, just 10% of Ireland’s milk production sells as liquid milk with the rest going into cheese and powdered milk products, and what was needed was a global price increase. The commission said Moscow’s import bans had reduced pork exports to Russia by 91 percent from 2013 to 2014. “This situation is not our fault, yet it is our sector that is being hit the most,” Albert Jan Maat, president of COPA, the main European farmers federation, said in a statement. “Prices are below production costs in many countries and farmers’ incomes half the average level, forcing some out of business.” In the case of the dairy sector, strong increases in production by farmers in countries like the United States and New Zealand have contributed to oversupply. However, Mr Comer did not fully accept the minister’s reasoning and insisted prices for all milk, irrespective of its end use, were being manipulated.

On Monday, dairy farmers stopped short of calling for a reinstatement of production quotas across Europe, but insisted that some limits had to be put in place again. He reminded Mr Coveney that Co Cork, that produces a quarter of the country’s milk, lost €235m in the past year because of the drop in milk prices. Schaber said farmers who voluntarily cut production should receive bonus payments. “I’m young,” said Clément Lambillotte, 25, who drove his tractor from Gozée, Belgium, where he has 450 beef and milk cattle. “I just took over my parents’ farm. Speaking after the meeting, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney welcomed the announcement by the EU Commission of a €500 million aid package but called for clarification on how these funds will be distributed between Member States. “The important issue now is to clarify as soon as possible how these funds are going to be disbursed to Member States. Sauvage was driving his tractor in a noisy convoy through Square Ambiorix, a well-heeled Brussels neighborhood dotted with grand townhouses built at the turn of the last century.

He also said the plan was intended to halt price decreases by temporarily removing from the market quantities of products like skimmed milk, butter, cheese and pork, and putting them into storage.

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