EU still not delivering on milk-for-migrants
By Peter Teffer
Five months after the European Commission floated the idea of buying dairy products from struggling European farmers to distribute to refugees, the plan still has not been implemented.
A commission spokesperson told this website in November that the plan was “being finalised”, which usually indicates it will be made public soon.
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But more time has now passed since that comment than between the comment and the announcement of the plan in September.
The commission said on Tuesday (9 February) that it was still working out the details, but would not comment on the question of what its definition of “being finalised” was. In fact, it did not wish to say anything on record about why the €30 million milk-to-migrant scheme had not yet been launched.
The commission also failed to seize the opportunity to answer basic questions, put forward by EUobserver, including: how will the commission select the farmers to buy dairy products from; what type of products will be bought; in what countries will the products be distributed; how long will refugees be able to benefit from the scheme?
The silence stands in sharp contrast with comments made by commissioners after the announcement of the scheme, which is part of a larger package of aid measures for European farmers.
Most of the other elements of the €500 million aid package have already been carried out, mostly in the form of direct aid via member states.
Its broad contents were announced on 7 September, when the commission said: "There are ways of addressing the nutritional needs of refugees, for example through the distribution of dairy products".
A week later, on 15 September, agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan presented a more detailed plan, which included a promise “to ensure that a measure of around €30 million will be devoted to ensuring that EU milk will made available for the nutritional needs of refugees, in particular those displaced in difficult conditions in our neighbouring countries”.
On 1 October, agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan said he was “delighted that we have been able to move so quickly” on changing the rules so that member states were more flexible in providing the direct payments to farmers.
However, he has since said little about the speed of the implementation of his promise on the milk-for-migrants plan.
The plan came out of a desire to think beyond traditional silos in policymaking.
Back in September, commission vice-president Jyrki Katainen, in charge of economic growth, said that the difficult market situation for Europe's dairy farmers, and the refugee crises, both “must be addressed at a European level”.
The Finnish official added that “synergies between responses” were needed.
While the scheme is small compared to the EU's existing aid efforts – last week the EU and its member states pledged €3 billion to Syrian refugees and people in Syria – it appears that Katainen's call for synergy between the agriculture and humanitarian aid departments of the European Commission was easier said than done.
Meanwhile, two farmers lobby groups in Brussels say they have not yet heard anything from the commission about the plan.
“They haven't been in touch,” said Silvia Daeberitz, spokesperson for the Brussels-based European Milk Board, which lobbies EU institutions on behalf of milk producers.
Daeberitz said the scheme was “in principle not a bad idea to try to solve two issues at once, but it will solve neither”.
“I would imagine it is more of a publicity thing,” noted Daeberitz.
A policy officer for Copa-Cogeca, a broader agricultural lobbying organisation, said it also had not been consulted yet.
The World Food Programme's (WFP) office in Brussels commented that “there is no news from the WFP front as this topic is being discussed amongst the member states/EU”.
The UN body said it “has no update on their plans and what they intend to propose, nor whether this fits our operations”.
The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), a Brussels-based network of NGOs, said in a comment that it needed more details before it could assess the plan's impact.
“If this will assist families with children, who are seeking international protection after fleeing war or persecution in their home country, then it looks quite positive,” said spokesperson Thorfinnur Omarsson.
“But as we don’t know the details of the plan, nor its implementation, it’s a bit premature for ECRE to comment on that.”
As for the commission, its most recent timetable given to this website was in a comment in December, when it said the “details of this measure are currently being worked on. We will know more in early 2016”.
Agriculture ministers are meeting in Brussels next Monday (15 February), but the milk-for-migrants scheme is not on the official agenda.