One thousand tractors blockade Brussels in dairy dispute

ANGRY EU dairy farmers have sprayed thousands of litres of milk at the European Parliament in protest at falling EU milk prices and the decision to remove EU milk quotas.

Around 2,000 to 3,000 dairy farmers with 1,000 tractors descended on Brussels on Monday ahead of talks by EU Ministers on the EU dairy regime.

At the height of the impassioned protest, farmers sprayed milk through powerful hoses at the Parliament building, covering riot police and members of the public in the process. MEPs and staff working in the building at the time told Farmers Guardian of their surprise at seeing milk suddenly appear on seventh floor windows.

At the nearby Place du Luxembourg, farmers erected mock gallows with an effagy hanging from it on a trailer full of hay them and then set alight to it, resulting in a fire burning for hours in central Brussels.

The protests continued into Tuesday, with traffic brought to a standstill by tractors blockading some of Brussels’ key routes and preventing workers from entering the key EU institutions. A number of Metro stations were closed adding to the traffic chaos in the city.

On Tuesday morning they were addressed by prominent MEP Paolo de Castro and EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos in the marquee they erected near the Parliament building, during which candles were lit on the stage to mark the dairy farmers from each member state that have gone out of business since 2009.

The protest finally ended at around lunch-time on Tuesday.

The farmers, are protesting at being paid below the cost of production and some are demanding a price increase of 25 per cent.

They also want EU policymakers to scrap plans to end milk quotas outright in 2015. The European Milk Board (EMB), which organised the protest, wants to see them retained in a new system it is calling ‘flexible suply management’. They also want to see a European Monitoring Agency to monitor relations between producers and milk buyers.

Possibly the sole UK representative was Will Taylor from Northern Ireland, representing the Fairness in Europe group of UK and Irish farming organisations. He said average milk production costs were now at unsustainable average of 47-49 euros per litre.

“Winston Churchill and other Euroean leaders set up the European Union after the Second World War so that never again would blood be spilled on the streets of Europe. They have done that but yesterday we saw milk running down the streets and it does not say much for our politicians if they cannot sort this issue out,” he said.

EMB president Romuald Schabe said milk producers from all over Europe came to Brussels to ‘call attention to their unbearable situation and symbolically put out the fire on the milk market’.

“For a long time, milk prices have not been able to cover production costs and thousands of dairy farmers were already obliged to give up their farms,” he said.

“The current overproduction sets European milk markets on fire and the European Institutions have to take appropriate measures in order to extinguish it,” Mr Schaber said.

EMB vice president Sieta van Keimpema said the farmers were commemorating their ‘more than 157,000 colleagues who had to abandon their farm since the last major crisis in 2009’.

He said: “There is an answer to the closure of farms. With the aid of a flexible supply management a further bleeding of the milk market can be prevented”.

Mr Ciolos’ spokesman Roger Waite acknowledged that rising costs of production are ‘squeezing’ profits’ But he said milk prices, while ‘difficult, are ‘not nearly as bad as they were in 2009’ and have ‘started to turn the corner since the spring and summer’.

“The decision to remove milk quotas on April 1, 2015, has been made and will not change. Milk quotas are going,” he said.

He said quotas were not the problem, pointing out that the low price endured now and in 2009 occurred with milk quotas in place and that ‘more than half’ of all member states were currently producing at at least 10 per cent below their quota. Maintaining quotas would prevent the EU industry taking advantage of growing global demand for quality products like cheeses, he added.

Mr Waite said the ‘crucial’ issue for dairy farmers was enhancing their negotiating position, which would be helped by the EU Milk Package, which recently entered into force and includes a requirement for a written milk contract.

But Mr Taylor said said quotas would still be needed in countries that produce close to quota now, like Ireland where the Government is ‘foolishly pushing to produce more milk after quotas go’.

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