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Minute of silence for victims of EU farm crisis

Commissioner Phil HoganCommissioner Phil Hogan
Commissioner Phil Hogan

Members of the Agriculture committee held a minute of silence on Monday evening for all farmers who committed suicide due to their dire situation arising from the ongoing crisis on agriculture markets.

The EU Commission must act right now, they told Commissioner Phil Hogan, to help EU farmers cope with falling prices for their produce using all available tools and should not shy away from proposing new ones even if it entails legislative changes, they insisted.

"There is something very rotten in our society today if those who produce food are so desperate on their farms that they are committing suicide. We do have to ask ourselves what state we are in that we have to eat food three times a day and those who produce it are so desperate," said Mairead McGuinness (EPP, IE) in a reaction to the initiative of José Bové (Greens/EFA, FR) who asked for a minute of silence for all victims of the agriculture crisis.

Crisis recognised by the Commission. At last, say MEPs

Many MEPs applauded Commissioner Hogan's recognition that the EU farming sector is experiencing "a deep and profound crisis which in the short term shows little sign of improvement."

"We are very pleased to have the Commissioner here recognising" that "we are in the situation of crisis and that it is a very serious one," said Paolo De Castro (S&D, IT). "Welcome, Commissioner Hogan, to the real world," Lidia Senra Rodriguez (GUE/NGL, PT) echoed and Martin Häusling (Greens/EFA, DE) added that farmers are facing not just a crisis but "the biggest crisis we had in a recent decade."

Legislative changes necessary to tackle volatile prices and unfair trading

"Responding to the volatility on the markets (...) means that we have got to open up the discussion on the management of risk," when the mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform is due, said Mr De Castro. He blamed member states and the Commission for not agreeing to Parliament's proposal to strengthen risk management instruments when the CAP reform was negotiated in 2013 insisting that "we have got to find a response to this today."

Ms McGuinness noted that it is not only dairy and pig-meat sectors that are facing the crisis but grain farmers and fruit and vegetable growers are struggling too. Speaking in favour of introducing a binding EU legislation to tackle unfair trading practices she insisted that Commissioner Hogan should put more "pressure" on his "fellow Commissioners to do more on the food supply chain."

Increase intervention prices, extend private storage and pay for production cuts

EU farmers are in the situation when "people and their families" are "in serious danger of losing everything they have," said James Nicholson (ECR, UK) advocating an increase of intervention prices, in spite of a "long-standing disagreement" he has no this matter with Commissioner Hogan. Mr Nicholson also called for an extension of the private storage for the skimmed milk powder, which "will reach the ceiling by the time we hit the month of April."

Mr Häusling criticised the suggestion to introduce export credits claiming that this would bring the EU "back to 1970s." He argued that the overall EU production should be reduced and its quality increased to better compete on the market. Farmers voluntarily cutting their production should be compensated, Mr Häusling insisted. He also claimed that just the end of the Russian embargo on EU foodstuffs will not solve the current crisis.

Market oriented approach versus regulated production

"The call of some member states to subside the reduction of production, raising intervention prices and even put in a claim on the crisis reserve is a huge step back in time," said Jan Huitema (ALDE, NL) advocating a "market-oriented approach." "The only structural solution is that we have to make our agricultural sector more competitive on the world market," he said.

But Ms Senra Rodriguez disagreed. "The solutions being put forward [by the Commission] are the same old chestnut," that we had before, she said blaming "mistakes" made during the CAP reform for the current crisis. She asked the Commission to explore other solutions such as "regulating the production and regulating markets". "If we carry on along the same path (...) we are deceiving the sector," she said.

"Farming is important" but "many farmers (...) feel that the CAP no longer sells produce at the right prices. It is geared towards exports but it kills jobs in Europe. The objectives of your policies go for productivity and yield but it does not go to the interest of farmers," said Philippe Loiseau (ENF, FR) criticising the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations.

To watch the full debate, click here.

Watch the debate via VOD (07.03.2016)
Agriculture committee demands an EU law to fight unfair trading practices (12.11.2015)
Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development