Police use water cannon on farmers at EU protest
€500m aid announced but farms face crisis
Published 08/09/2015 | 02:30
Belgian police fired water cannon at protesting farmers who lobbed eggs, apples and fireworks as they demanded EU intervention to help with an income crisis for farm families.
The European Commission announced a €500m aid package to help ease pressure as agriculture ministers held crisis talks in Brussels. The aid proposals were prepared by Irish Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, but had to be presented by an EU colleague as Mr Hogan was absent due to illness.
Police estimated 5,000 farmers, with 1,500 tractors, blocked streets in Brussels around the heavily-guarded EU headquarters. The police briefly fired water cannon as protesters set fire to planks of wood and tyres, sending up thick black smoke.
The demonstrators were mainly from Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and France.
But a strong Irish contingent protesting peacefully included representatives from the IFA and ICMSA.
The crisis has hit all farm sectors but it has especially affected dairy and pigmeat producers. A paper prepared by Commissioner Hogan said the crisis was down to a combination of factors including a Russian import ban on EU food, worth €5.5bn; poor demand from markets like China; a world over-supply of milk; and problems with drought and disease in some member states.
Albert Jan Maat, president of European farmers association Copa, said EU farmers were paying the price for international politics. IFA leader Eddie Downey and the ICMSA's John Comer both called for a rise in dairy intervention prices as the only real long-term solution.
But the EU aid package did not include this - and Brussels officials insisted intervention buying was not the remedy.
Commission vice-president Jyrki Katanien of Finland, who was doing duty for Mr Hogan, said intervention would only worsen and prolong the crisis.
There was better news for Irish farmers as the package includes the early payment by October 16 next of 70pc of voluntary coupled supports and young farmer grants, and up to 85pc of area-based rural development payments.
The aid plan also holds out the prospect of more EU direct income support for Irish farmers under other EU schemes.
But Brussels officials said it was too early to say what Ireland's share of a special income aid fund will actually be.
Commissioner Katanien said the aid programme was a strong response which would address farmers' short-term problems.
The aid package does include aids to private storage for dairy products like cheese, skim milk and powders, with a similar scheme for the pigmeat sector. Brussels officials argued this would have an immediate and beneficial effect on markets.
There will also be EU funding for a promotion programme for dairy and pigmeat products.
The Milk Market Observatory, which promotes market intelligence, is to be better resourced and its operations streamlined.