European Union farmers reeling from plunging agriculture prices will get 500 million euros ($559 million) in emergency aid under a relief package from the European Commission.
EU agricultural ministers endorsed the package on Monday in Brussels, with the commission urging that funds be made available immediately. More than 6,000 farmers and 2,000 tractors converged on Brussels, industry groups said, with protesters blocking streets and marching toward the EU headquarters.
Plummeting 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 measures are aimed at addressing cash-flow issues and stabilizing markets, the commission said.
The relief package “is a significant, fast and concrete response to the current situation,” European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen told reporters after the meeting. “It’s real money,” he said, adding that the aim is to “start the aid support package as soon as possible, in a few weeks’ time.”
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 near the EU’s headquarters honked horns, clanged cow-bells and blew whistles. Farmers threw hay on police and 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.”
Protests have erupted across Europe this summer in response to falling agriculture prices. British farmers raided supermarkets, emptying shelves of milk, and their French counterparts blockaded parts of Paris last week with tractors.
Katainen suggested the the new European Fund for Strategic Investment, which seeks to boost economic growth by fostering spending on infrastructure projects, could help the agriculture industry. There is an “opportunity to use EFSI” to invest in the farming sector, Katainen said.