European Union farmers reeling from plunging prices should receive 500 million euros in immediate aid, the European Commission proposed Monday.
EU agricultural ministers are discussing the proposal at an emergency meeting, with the commission urging that funds be made available immediately. More than 6,000 farmers and 2,000 tractors have converged on Brussels, industry groups said, with protesters marching toward Place Schuman in front of EU headquarters.
Plunging prices for milk, meat, fruit and vegetables have spurred losses for farmers across Europe, according to Brussels-based farm lobby Copa-Cogeca. Russia’s ban on food imports from the EU, slowing demand from China and an oversupply of milk and pig meat have contributed to the collapse. The commission’s proposal is aimed at addressing cash-flow issues and stabilizing markets, according to an e-mailed statement.
“This is a robust and decisive response,” European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said in the statement. “The commission takes its responsibility towards farmers very seriously and is prepared to back it up with the appropriate funds.”
European milk prices have fallen about 20 percent in the past year, while prices paid for pigs are about 16 percent lower, industry data show. The commission, the EU’s executive arm, proposed that aid be targeted at the bloc’s member nations most affected by the crisis and said countries can pay farmers as much as 50 percent of their regular direct subsidies in mid-October instead of in December.
Protesters at Place Schuman honked horns, clanged cow-bells and blew whistles. Farmers threw hay from a tractor on police then set a hay-stack on fire, which police doused with a water cannon. Farmers are facing mounting debt and many can no longer pay their bills, said Audrey Le Bivic, a dairy farmer from Brittany in France, who came to Brussels to protest.
“It’s impossible to continue like this,” she said in an interview. “I have no salary. My bills are higher than my earnings.”
While demonstrations on Monday morning were broadly peaceful, at least one protester was seen being sprayed with a water cannon by police. Protests have erupted across Europe this summer in response to falling prices. British farmers raided supermarkets, emptying shelves of milk, and their French counterparts blockaded parts of Paris last week with tractors.
“Margins are tight anyway, but this year in particular has been really difficult,” Tanya Robbins, a sheep farmer in Gloucestershire, England, said Sunday by phone as she was planning to join the march in Brussels. “The bottom line is we all need our businesses to be profitable.”
What do you think about the situation for farmers in Europe right now? Are these protests justified? Let us know in the comments.