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Russian Ban: Agriculture Committee calls for more actions and money to support EU farmers

The EU must be ready to introduce additional measures and allocate fresh resources outside the agricultural budget to help EU farmers overcome harsh effects of the Russian import ban on EU food products, Agriculture Committee MEPs said on Thursday. They also warned that the embargo might stay in place for some time and called for long-term solutions.

During the debate with Commission representatives ahead of the Friday's Agriculture Council meeting in Brussels MEPs called for EU-wide support for EU farmers. "We want more than just solidarity between farmers. We want solidarity for farmers from all citizens of the EU", said Mairead McGuinness (EPP, IE) insisting that this is "not an agricultural crisis" but "a political problem".

Even though the Russian embargo led to "very substantial losses", particularly in Baltic States, Poland and Finland, "strengthening of [EU] sanctions was inevitable since the Russia has aggravated the crisis in Ukraine", argued Olli Rehn (ALDE, FI). "The EU must alleviate the distress of producers so that losses do not become too excessive", Mr. Rehn said and called on the Agriculture Council to take "rapid actions".

However, EU must not focus on short-term solutions only, several parliamentarians said during the debate. "This is a beginning of probably a very long hole" and "there is a long way to go", James Nicholson (ECR, UK) said. "Have no illusions. Russian market will be not back unless there is a change in their geopolitical goals. Be aware, under Putin it will not happen", said Sandra Kalniete (EPP, LV) and Eric Andrieu (S&D, FR) called on Commission to come up with mid-term and long-term solutions.

A few MEPs also expressed concerns about actions they believe have paved the way for the Russian ban. "The EU was the first one to impose sanctions", said Emmanouil Glezos (GUE/NGL, EL). "We are witnesses of a cock fight between the Atlantic part of the EU and Russia ... at expense of people", he added.

More money needed, but not from agriculture budget

During the debate many MEPs argued that current resources will not be sufficient to compensate all farmers in all sectors. "Today we have a chance to remember errors of the past," said Paolo De Castro (S&D, IT) referring to anti-crisis measures and resources Parliament called for during the CAP reform. "Now farmers will have to pay for consequences. Ultimately, the fiscal discipline might have to be applied to pay costs of the Russian embargo," he warned.

"Farming is on the front line of this conflict. It would be shame if only the agriculture budget was used to offset damage done to our farmers. We really need to think about amending the budget for the CAP because of this exceptional event ", said Michel Dantin (EPP, FR).

Call for more money to be allocated to help EU farmers overcome the effects of the embargo was also supported by Bas Belder (ECR, NL). "This is far too little", he said referring to €125 million for market withdrawal operations of fruits and vegetables. "We need to push for sufficient resources that means in addition to what is currently in the agriculture budget, to deal with the situation and to ensure stability on the market place," agreed Ms McGuinness. She also echoed Mr. De Castro and Dantin in rejecting the idea of cutting "the already restricted budget on direct payments" to pay for the crisis.

Milk and dairy products: Get rid of super levy

The import ban has had harsh impact on EU agriculture, mainly on the dairy, fruits and vegetable and to some extent also on the meat sector, Commission told the Agriculture committee. Among those hardest hit were milk farmers in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland, but other producers in other members states are suffering as well, Commission said.

To make their lives easier, several MEPs, including Ms Kalniete, Ms  McGuinness and Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk (ECR, PL) demanded super levy for exceeding quotas to be phased out.  "We should now be looking at a gradual easing of quota restrictions rather than the once and for all event [in 2015]", said Diane Dodds (NI, UK). These restrictions could be abandoned also according to Jarosław Kalinowski (EPP, PL).

Extending public intervention for butter and skimmed-milk powder until the end of the year (instead of 30 September as foreseen by current rules), has been welcomed by the committee but levels of intervention prices were strongly criticised by some MEPs. "Intervention prices as set at the moment are totally unrealistic and do not represent what the state of the market requires", said Mr Nicholson while Ms Dodds warned that if not increased, they could worsen the crisis milk sector is facing now. 

MEPs also debated broader approach towards the EU agriculture and the milk sector itself, which will see milk quotas expired in 2015. Small milk farmers are "suffering great difficulties" because of an "irresponsible political decision" to "liberalise the market and drop quotas", Lidia Senra Rodríguez (GUE/NGL, ES) claimed. "The fundamental question is whether we should be focusing on exports, particularly for milk ... or whether we bring back market rules", Martin Häusling (Greens/EFA, DE) said rejecting the idea of using export refunds, as suggested by Ms Dodds.

Promote consumption of fruits and vegetables

Current crisis should be seen as "an opportunity to increase our assistance for fruit and vegetable and milk sectors and to eat more of them.  We need to re-launch campaigns to promote fruit and vegetable consumption" which is in the end "good for public health", said Marc Tarabella (S&D, BE).

"We need to move swiftly particularly on perishable products", Albert Dess (EPP, DE) argued and called for measures to help producers find alternative markets. But the list of products covered must be expanded, several MEPs said including Mr Kalinowski and Marijana Petir (EPP, HR). "There is not very much attention being paid to Mediterranean crops", Clara Eugenia Aguilera García (S&D, ES) complained mentioning, among others, citrus fruits, melons, water melons and tropical fruit, and called for measures to be more balanced.

Fair distribution of aid

Farmers should be equally compensated for their losses no matter whether they are members of producer organisations or not, some MEPs insisted. "It is intolerable that there should be a difference, a discrimination, between those who belong to producer organisations and those who do not", Ms Senra Rodríguez said. The call not to discriminate farmers was echoed also by Mr Kalinowski.

Other sectors

The Russian import ban is not the only problem EU agriculture is facing now, some MEPs said. Bronis Ropé (Greens/EFA, LT) asked for measures to help pig sector, which is suffering in some member states due to spread of African Swine Fever, and warned of rising unemployment as a side-effect of agricultural crises.

Giulia Moi (EFDD, IT) on the other hand demanded support for farmers in Southern Europe who are "almost of their knees" because of "the wicked choice to bring in produce from Morocco with no quality control and no price control".