EU help for farmers is coming, but not yet
By Peter Teffer
The current slump in the dairy and pig meat sectors requires “an EU-wide response”, the form of which will be decided at the next meeting of farming ministers in March, said agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan on Monday (15 February).
“I'm not satisfied with the current situation for farmers, and I acknowledge that the situation requires not just a member state response, but also an EU-wide response,” said Hogan at a press conference after Monday's agriculture ministerial in Brussels.
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The meeting took place while French farmers held another protest against what they say are exceedingly low prices for their products, as they have done regularly since the beginning of the year.
Hogan also confirmed he would visit French prime minister Manuel Valls and French agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll in Paris next Thursday (25 February). Valls had recently said that the European Commission “has done too little too late” to help struggling farmers.
On Monday, Le Foll told journalists that the commission “has noted the gravity of the situation”. Hogan said he already had a “very cordial and constructive meeting” with Le Foll on Monday morning, who presented a set of possible measures in a memorandum.
“This paper is a useful contribution to the discussion that we are going to have in March,” said Hogan.
“It contains a number of proposals, some of them are worthy of consideration, notably in relation to export credits, the greater use of promotion, further efforts to lift the Russian embargo on pig meat.”
All member states have been invited to hand in proposals for EU-wide measures by 25 February. The commission will then present a proposal based on those ideas at the next agriculture ministerial, or council, on 14 March.
“The commission will evaluate those ideas and reflect on what more can be done to alleviate the pressures on our European farmers,” said Hogan, adding that any new supportive measures need to adhere to three criteria.
“It has to be consistent with the legal framework of the common agriculture policy; it should be within the resource constraint of the EU budget; ... and thirdly it should commend broad support within the Council,” noted Hogan.
“I will have an open mind to listen to all options and all ideas in the context of the framework that I just alluded to,” he added.
It was not only France that was worried about the market situation, said Dutch agriculture minister Martijn van Dam, who chaired the meeting - the Netherlands currently holds the rotating six-month EU presidency.
“We start this presidency during difficult times for Europe but also for the agricultural sector, in particular the pig meat and dairy sectors,” said Van Dam.
“Several members expressed their concerns and made clear the market situation in dairy and pig meat sectors are worrying and need to improve urgently,” the Dutch politician added.
Spain, Poland, and Cyprus also raised the issue.
At the March meeting, Hogan and the ministers will also assess the effect of a €500 million support package that the commission offered last September. The bulk of that package was funded through a mechanism that is no longer available, so it is unlikely that a similar financial aid package will be found.
Asked what he would say to protesting farmers who now have to wait a month before they know what measures will be taken at the EU level, Hogan said that 14 March “is not that long to wait, albeit the French farmers are under great difficulties, and I acknowledge that”.
“But it has to have the broad support of the Council for any measures of an EU-wide nature that need to be implemented.
“I think some time might be needed to bring a consensus in the Council to know what suite of measures could be implemented to reflect the very difficult market situations we have in the dairy and pig meat [sectors] in particular.”