EU promises protesting farmers more help, no new money
The European Commission announced more help for the agriculture sector on Monday, following protests by farmers who say they have been hit hard by a Russian ban on Western food imports.
The focus of the support package is on the dairy, pigmeat, fruit and vegetable sectors. It includes measures such as placing products into storage to reduce surpluses, allowing producers to freeze milk production, relaxing EU limits on state subsidies and effectively suspending EU rules on fair competition.
No new money was promised, but EU officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some steps, such as extending the aid package for fruit and vegetables, would require funding at a later stage.
European farmers staged protests on Monday, driving their tractors into central Brussels and causing traffic chaos. Lines of tractors blocked streets and dairy farmers sprayed milk outside Belgian government offices.
Farmers have been hit as Russia's ban on Western food imports imposed nearly two years ago - in response to EU sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis - has led to oversupply on EU markets and caused prices to plunge.
In France, the EU's largest agricultural producer, protests have gone on for months and the government has announced tax cuts for farmers.
"In the interest of EU farmers, I am prepared to use all instruments that the legislators have put at our disposal, both as a short-term and long-term measure," European Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan told a meeting of EU agriculture ministers.
He said a supply management scheme for milk, that would allow governments to provide financial help for farmers who froze production, should help to satisfy French demands.
The Commission is also considering a new scheme for pigmeat and extending help for growers of fruit and vegetables once an existing aid package for that sector expires at the end of June.
Since Russia banned Western food imports, the European Commission has mobilized more than 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) to help farmers.
It is also offering help, including funding for promotional campaigns, to find new markets.