Europe’s milk sector has been thrown a 280 million euro lifeline. Yet struggling farmers’ unions say it is a drop in the bucket. Some two thirds of the European Union countries had called for the additional aid after falling demand and price collapse for dairy products accompanied the financial and economic crisis.
After a meeting with the agriculture ministers in Luxembourg, the bloc’s top farm official said that is all they will get. Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said: “Member States have been plucking off my last feather. There will be no possibilities for any delegations to come up and ask for more money now. That’s my only worry, because we see some tendencies in the agricultural landscape that might face some difficulties but there is no more money to be picked up.” Since 2007, milk prices in some cases halved. Willem Smeenk, with the European Milk Board, defending the farmers’ interests, lamented the lifting of control limits on production: “It’s like trying to dry the kitchen floor with the tap running. If you want it to work, you should turn the tap off a little bit.” Last November, EU agriculture ministers agreed to lift milk production quotas gradually and scrap them by 2015. Yet the French minister, Bruno Le Maire, called for a u-turn. He insisted: “European regulation of the agricultural markets is an absolute necessity. Farming in Europe will disappear unless we can regulate properly on a European scale.” Le Maire had said 21 countries supported keeping EU market rules in place. The Commission, however, refuses to reopen the Member States’ decision to scrap the quota system.