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Tractor -V- Water Cannon: EU to give farmers €500m after mass protest

Up to 6,000 farmers took part in the protest, claiming that their livelihoods are at risk by below-cost selling from retailers.

Updated: 6.40pm

THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION has announced a €500 million support package for farmers, after a meeting of EU agriculture ministers and Agricultural Commissioner Phil Hogan was held in Brussels today.

European Commission vice president Jyrki Katainen said the measures “look to the immediate needs of farmers” and “also include a longer-term view to improve future conditions, notably with regard to the food chain”.

They will focus on three areas:

  • Addressing the cash-flow difficulties farmers are facing
  • Stabilising markets
  • Addressing the functioning of the supply chain.

The package will allow all 28 member states to advance up to 70%of direct payments, including voluntary coupled support and young farmers’ payments, and 85% of area-based rural development payments from 16 October.

Katainen said this represents “major progress compared to the current rules, which allow member states to advance up to 50% of direct payments and 75% of rural development aid.”

farmers Source: Twitter/JRegoyos

Earlier today, water cannons were used and riot police were deployed as bales of hay were set on fire as farmers protested in Brussels.

Up to 6,000 farmers from all parts of Europe, including Ireland, took part in the protest, claiming that their livelihoods are at risk by below-cost selling from retailers.

The farmers claim that the combined effect of the below-cost selling and a Russian food import ban means that they are under severe financial pressure.

Belgium Farmers Demonstration Source: AP/Press Association Images

There was a heavy police presence on the streets and videos have shown water cannons being used by police.

Bales of hay were set on fire at a roundabout in Brussels’ administrative district.

“It is critically important that ministers step up with a strong declaration that Europe will ban below-cost selling of food and address the excessive input costs imposed on farmers,” the Irish Farmers Association’s Eddie Downey said ahead of the protest.

Belgium Farmers Demonstration Police are sprayed with a hay machine during the protest. Source: Virginia Mayo/PA

Downey said the EU Commission must approve the use of an €800 million fund from levy fines to support dairy farmers.

This fund comes from farmers and it is estimated that around €70 million of it comes from farmers in Irish co-operatives.

“It is unacceptable that European farmers are expected to carry the cost of the consequences of political decisions,” Downey said.

A delegation from the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society was also at today’s protest. They say that co-ops have had to support farmers to the tune of €100 million since the Russian ban came into effect last year.

This money could be better spent in research and development, argued ICOS president Michael Spellman.

Farmers are not looking for hand outs here, but we are looking for support to turn around the market so our businesses can make a return.

Spellman also argued that a portion of direct payments to farmers should be be paid out early because of a “cash flow crisis at farm level”.

Belgium Farmers Demonstration Police officers and tractors face off during the protest. Source: AP/Press Association Images

- with reporting from Órla Ryan

Read: People from the north-west and farmers are Ireland’s worst tax offenders >

Read: This is why some TDs have to watch a video of thousands of pigs being slaughtered >

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Rónán Duffy

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