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EU Dairy Farmers Win Subsidies, Want Reforms

Dairy farmers won 280 million euros ($418 million) of additional subsidies from the European Union Oct. 19 after weeks of protests over low milk prices.

But some of the farmers, who burned hay, threw firecrackers and blocked traffic with tractors and buses as EU farm ministers met in Luxembourg, said only a regulatory reform of the sector would provide a long-term solution to their problems.

Announcing the additional aid, which will be distributed among member states in 2010, EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said she hoped for a quick end to the protests.

“This is my contribution and also the contribution of the (European) Commission to try to put an end to some of these protests in the streets. I think this has to stop,” Fischer Boel told reporters. The farm ministers from the 27-country bloc also discussed proposals by 21 member states led by France and Germany, including prolonging public intervention in the dairy market.

“We hope that we can stabilize the market with the proposals that we have today,” said Swedish Farm Minister Eskil Erlandsson, whose country holds the EU presidency until the end of this year. But the proposals failed to douse a protest by about 2,000 farmers near the ministers’ meeting, causing traffic chaos which prompted EU finance ministers to change the venue of talks they planned in Luxembourg.

“Fair Trade, Fair Bananas, Fair Coffee, Where is our Fair Milk?,” one banner read. Another declared: “1 litre Cola = 5 litre milk, is that fair?”

WEEKS OF PROTESTS

The dairy farmers have been protesting for weeks and began a two-week milk supply boycott across Europe last month.

They blame EU liberalization policies for falling prices and are demanding milk surpluses be removed from the market in the short term. They also want a pan-European institution created to regulate the dairy market.

“This decision is not what we wanted. Our proposal is for a regulation of the dairy market and reduction of milk quotas by five per cent,” said Rogier Florent, a dairy farmer from France.

The European Milk Board lobby group, which has been behind some of the protests, also dismissed the EU’s measures. “They are just putting numbers into the air but nobody knows from where and when the money will be coming,” said Romuald Schaber, the group’s president.

French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said regulation of the dairy sector was needed to stabilize farmers’ revenues and guarantee price stability, even though no specifics have been proposed of how it would be done. “The stakes behind regulation go beyond the milk. It is also a question of European agriculture in general. It is a question of a competitive agricultural sector, if it is capable of providing food security in years to come,” Le Maire said.

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