Commission won't budge on intervention price demands
Published 09/09/2015 | 02:30
Belgian police were taking no chances and they were around Brussels' EU quarter in force yesterday, making a scary sight in full riot gear that included body armour.
The riot police were even backed up by armed military commandoes. Farmer demonstrations are not renowned for violent disruption, and for the most part the worst thing the police had to contend with were hails of eggs being fired at them, yet on this occasion straw bales were set alight as well.
Late on in proceedings, water cannon was deployed as a small section of the crowd - put at 5,000 by police along with 1,500 tractors - tried to break through the layers of barriers. The bulk of the attendance came from the surrounding Belgian countryside but large delegations also travelled from neighbouring Netherlands, Germany and France.
Prominent among the Irish attendance were the representatives of IFA, ICMSA and ICOS, with the union presidents, Eddie Downey and John Comer. A summer of protests, notably in Germany, France, Britain and Belgium, as well as last week's demonstration in Dublin, had left the 28 Agriculture Ministers in no doubt about the farmers' mood across the European Union.
All sectors have been blighted by a series of problems, with dairy and pigmeat producers particularly badly hit. Outlining the "Hogan package" was Commission vice president, Jyrki Katainen, of Finland, doing duty for the Irish Agriculture Commissioner, laid low by illness, but happily now much improved.
Mr Katainen identified five reasons for the current agriculture crisis, pretty much in order of importance.
The Russian import ban in retaliation for EU trade sanctions over Ukraine; weakening demand in China and other major markets; a global over-supply of milk; drought in some countries affecting fodder crops like maize; and disease in some member states, notably African swine fever.
Vice-president Katainen outlined what Brussels diplomats insisted was a huge package of measures totalling €500m - compared with €300m when the last big crisis hit in 2009.
The hope is that much of it can be fast-tracked for implementation by mid-October.
But the Finnish Commissioner was equally emphatic there will absolutely be no increase in the intervention price.
This was among the measures sought by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, and it was strongly urged by both the IFA and ICMSA as central to any remedy for Irish farmers.
It was a strong and effective demonstration. But for Irish farm organisations it did not deliver their central demand.