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22nd Jul 2018

EU farm chief questions own milk scheme

  • Hogan (l): "I have engaged a lot of political capital now on behalf of the French and the Belgians to try and come up with something that they wanted for a long time" (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

The European Commission has said it will let Europe's dairy sector manage its output to rebalance an oversupplied market, less than a year after the EU's milk quotas ended.

The new scheme had strong French backing, but shortly after farm ministers met in Brussels on Monday (14 March) EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan questioned the effectiveness of the move.

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  • EU milk farmers staged angry protests in European cities last year (Photo: Russ Allison Loar)

Ministers had met to discuss the dire situation in the pig meat and dairy sectors in Europe and agreed to a range of measures proposed by Hogan.

Among other provisions, Hogan said he would extend by one year measures aimed at cushioning the effects of a Russian import ban on EU fruit and vegetables.

Russia imposed the embargo in retaliation at EU sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

The commission relief package is to expire on 30 June.

But Hogan told press on Monday: “I don't think [Russian leader] Mr Putin is in any particular good humour at this stage in order to lift those particular problems that has brought these particular measures around.”

Russia aside, the big decision on Monday was a return to output management of dairy products, albeit under a voluntary system.

The EU on 1 April 2015 ended three decades of an old milk quota scheme. But market and political factors created a glut on the market, forcing down prices.

The developments left European farmers torn on the horns of a dilemma: increase production to protect income while harming the market, or lose money to prevent even worse oversupply.

The EU commission will now let dairy trade organisations create voluntary agreements to limit production.

France had wanted a new market regulation instrument. French agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll told press after Monday’s meeting that most of his demands had been met.

But it is difficult to see how a voluntary scheme will solve the problem.

Imagine EU country A has a scheme under which its farmers limit milk production. How do you stop producers in country B from flooding the market of country A with cheap milk, EUobserver asked Hogan.

“You can't,” he told this website and a handful of other journalists on Monday evening.

“Ask the French minister of agriculture. He has everything worked out,” the 55-year old Irish politician added.

“I assure you that I have engaged a lot of political capital now on behalf of the French and the Belgians to try and come up with something that they wanted for a long time.”

“It's going to be very difficult for the reasons this gentleman [the EUobserver reporter] just explained: It's voluntary,” he said,

The Dutch agriculture minister, Martijn van Dam, who chaired Monday’s meeting, appealed to the conscience of EU farmers and food companies.

“We call upon all relevant market operators in the dairy and pig meat sector … to act responsibly and contribute to restoring balance between supply and demand,” he said.

“A reduction in supply is necessary to restore the markets.”

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