The EU’s agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said on Thursday (25 February) he was ready to work with France to take further steps to help struggling livestock farmers after weeks of protests by farmers over low prices in the European Union’s biggest agricultural economy.
French farmers say thousands of them could go out of business as a Russian embargo on Western food and a downturn in global dairy markets exacerbate competition from neighbours such as Germany and Spain which they see benefiting from lower taxes and lighter regulation.
After meeting French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in Paris, European Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said he would study French proposals to tackle the market downturn ahead of a March 14 meeting of EU farm ministers.
“We acknowledged the serious difficulties being experienced by French and European producers across a number of sectors and agreed on the need to take appropriate steps to alleviate the current situation,” Hogan told reporters.
He reiterated the European Commission had already granted a €500 million package in September but said market imbalances were persisting.
“We have global oversupply and a Russian embargo, which is a perfect storm.”
Valls, who recently criticised the EU for not doing enough to help farmers, earlier put pressure on the Commission to come up with measures next month.
“Europe has enough crises and challenges already – terrorist threats, a refugee crisis – and we shouldn’t add a major farming crisis that would call into question the European project,” he said.
Hogan supported French calls to continue engaging with Russia to lift a ban on certain EU pork products, a ban imposed in 2014 on sanitary grounds before a broader political embargo on Western food.
He declined to detail the French proposals, which were further to an initial paper presented at an EU ministers’ meeting last week at which France failed to win immediate action.
But he said the Commission was looking in particular at export credits and financial instruments such as low-interest loans as possible areas.
The French government, which last week announced tax cuts for farmers worth €500 million, has been attempting to defuse protests in the run-up to the politically important Paris farm show that runs from Feb. 27 to March 6.
French President François Hollande will make the traditional presidential visit at the opening of the show on Saturday, and Hogan said he would also visit the event next week.
The lifting of EU milk quotas in March, combined with declining Chinese demand, changing dietary habits, and a Russian embargo on Western food products, have combined to push down the prices of beef, pork and milk.
The European Commission unlocked €500 million in aid to farmers, as angry protestors took the streets of Brussels.
The details of the 'flexible aid package' were unveiled last week (15 September) by Commissioner Phil Hogan.
- 27 Feb - 6 March: Paris farm show
- 14 March: Meeting of agriculture ministers