About 1,000 farmers from Germany, France and other EU nations protested outside the emergency meeting, throwing bottles and eggs at police, and burning tires and hay. Police closed off the EU Council building and set up a major security perimeter, snarling traffic in parts of Brussels for much of the day.
Farmers want regulation to shield them from volatile free markets that have collapsed milk prices. Some 20 EU nations met ahead of the meeting, agreeing to push for a new system to regulate the market once the EU phases out market-distorting quotas in 2015.
Led by France and Germany, the nations want assurances for the dairy sector in an increasingly globalised world, even if cheaper products can be found elsewhere.
“Farmers are worried we are going to a system where there are no more rules left,” said French farm minister, Bruno Le Maire. “We need regulation. It’s not the free market that will get us there.”
The 20 nations demanded in a statement that the EU Commission come up with cash to relieve farmers’ immediate financial needs.
“We need additional money from the EU, a stimulus programme for the farmers,” said German minister Ilse Aigner. “We need help now.”
EU farm commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, said member states will be able to pay up to €15,000 per farmer “in the coming days”, but insisted she could go along with additional funds only if the money didn’t come out of the existing EU budget.
“I would be happy if the member states would give me another €5bn for the dairy sector,” she told reporters. “I’m not sure the finance ministers are exactly of the same opinion.”
Farmers have been protesting for weeks, arguing production costs are currently up to twice as high as market prices. They insist the EU must tighten quotas to drive up prices, rather than sticking to a commitment to end the quota policy and free up production by 2015.
“We’re here to tell them to make the right decision,” said French dairy farmer Antoine Le Marle, who was protesting. “Put in place a true regulatory system for milk production so that milk producers will still be here tomorrow and be paid a fair price for their work.”
Fischer Boel said a high-level meeting would start next week to look at ways to reduce market volatility. Three weeks ago, she promised steps to combat sinking dairy prices, yet insisted the commission would not abandon long-term farm reforms. Yesterday, she again insisted that prices were rising steadily to help farmers.
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