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21st Apr 2019

EU plan to buy milk for refugees still work-in-progress

  • A Spanish dairy farmer from Arzua during a protest on Thursday (12 November) in neighbouring Santiago de Compostela (Photo: Jessica Pintor/Organización de Productores de Leche)

Two months after a European Commission plan to buy dairy products from ailing farmers to distribute to refugees was proposed, details are still being developed.

The plan, presented by the commission at a meeting with EU farming ministers in September, is "still being worked out" but is “being finalised”, commission spokesperson Daniel Rosario told this website Thursday (12 November).

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  • Spanish dairy farmers handing out free milk by way of protest (Photo: Jessica Pintor/Organización de Productores de Leche)

Agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan said at the time he wanted to address two European crises at the same time: the economic woes of European farmers, and the refugee crisis.

“In identifying appropriate measures for the benefit of farmers, we cannot ignore the impact of this unprecedented humanitarian challenge, and we must see how our actions to stabilise the market can contribute to our solidary efforts [with refugees]," Hogan told ministers.

The commission has promised to buy dairy products from European farmers worth around €30 million, and to distribute them among “refugees, in particular those displaced in difficult conditions in our neighbouring countries."

Meanwhile, the bulk of the commission's €500 million aid package to help struggling dairy and pig farmers, has been made available to member states.

EU countries have received €420 million from Brussels to redistribute to their farmers, although it may take some time before farmers actually received the money. The UK's agriculture ministry, for example, will “ensure aid reaches farmers’ bank accounts in December."

A source close to the EU Council, which represents member states, said agriculture ministers will discuss the measures and the state of the agricultural sector in Brussels on Monday (16 November).

“It's clearly too early to have an evaluation of the effect of the different measures, [but] it has certainly contributed to calm down the situation a bit," the source noted.

The EU aid package for farmers was agreed following large-scale protests in Europe over the Summer.

One of the grievances of the protesters was the level of the milk price, which had been dropping steadily for months.

According to figures released Wednesday by the commission's Milk Market Observatory, the average price for milk was €29.90 per hundred litres of milk in September, which was a 0.6 percent increase from the month before, and the largest increase since January 2014, when the average price was €40.08.

For October, the price went down slightly to €29.69, which would be a 0.7 percent decrease, but this figure is still an estimate.

“The milk market has stabilized. I suppose for farmers prices are not at the level that they would expect, but the downward trend has been stopped," the EU contact added.

Not everyone will agree with him.

On Thursday dairy farmers had planned protests in different European cities, including in Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, and Spain.

The European Milk Board (EMB), a dairy lobbiyst group which has coordinated the protests, said the “milk market crisis is a burning issue and a stark threat to many farms in Europe."

EMB wants ministers on Monday to discuss the possibility for a market mechanism for the milk sector, which has become a 'normal' market since the EU's milk quota ended after three decades on 1 April 2015.

“Whenever the milk price falls below production costs we need the option of a voluntary restraint on supply,” said Roberto Cavaliere, of an Italian association of dairy producers, in a press release.

But there is little chance that such a mechanism will be adopted.

Exports

A topic that will be discussed is the effects of the Russian embargo on European food products.

European exports to Russia have dropped by almost 43 percent when comparing the period of September 2014 to August 2015 to the same 12-month period a year earlier, according to commission statistics released Wednesday.

Russia, which used to be the number two export country for the EU, has now fallen behind China and Switzerland. Exports to China have increased from €7 billion to €9.6 billion (36 percent), while exports to Russia dropped from €10.7 billion to €6.1 billion.

European farmers' biggest export market is still the United States, worth €18.5 billion (a 17.6 percent increase from a year earlier).

In total, the European 'agri-food' sector exported almost €128 billion worth of products to non-EU countries in the mentioned 12-month period ending in August 2015, which is a 6.3 percent increase from the same period a year earlier.

Agriculture ministers accept Commission aid plan

Most of the EU's agriculture ministers were cautiously optimistic about the EU Commission's €500 million aid package for Europe's struggling farmers, after receiving additional details.

EU still not delivering on milk-for-migrants

The European Commission floated the idea in September of buying dairy products from struggling European farmers to distribute to refugees, but the scheme is not yet up and running.

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