BRUSSELS (AP) — Thousands of farmers protested outside European Union headquarters on Monday to demand more aid and higher prices for their milk and pig meat. The European Commission responded with a support plan worth 500 million euros ($560 million).
In a tense standoff, farmers from across the 28-nation EU pelted police with eggs and sprayed them with hay before they were drenched in return by a water cannon.
In a building close by, European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen announced the support plan, which seeks to immediately ease the debt load of farmers, many of whom are selling milk below production prices. The market has become oversupplied since a system of quotas was reformed this year and some markets were closed off.
"The milk price is under or around 28 cents (per liter, about 0.2 gallons). And this is not enough even to cover the costs," said Heinz Thorwarth, who had come to Brussels from Fuchsstadt, in southern Germany.
"Prices have gone down 30-40 percent for most farmers and our farms are really going bankrupt like this," added Sieta van Keimpema, vice president of the European Milk Board farmers group.
Some farmers have called for a reintroduction of quotas on production or more direct aid from their governments to pay the bills.
Katainen called the European Commission's measures "a robust and decisive response." He said direct payments to farmers from EU nations could be sped up to ease the cash crunch.
Katainen also said there would be measures to stabilize the volatile markets and better regulate the supply chain to protect farmers more.
The head of the EU farming federation Copa-Cogeca, Pekka Pesonen, said that "an aid package of 500 million euros is nowhere enough to compensate farmers for the loss" of the Russian export market, which is closed off because of a ban.
About 6,000 farmers walked through the capital and 2,000 tractors stopped traffic in around the city, relentlessly blowing their horns.
Farmers have historically been protected against volatility in market prices by EU policies that sought to guarantee them a fair living in return for steadfast and plentiful production.
But a system of generous subsidies and market-shielding measures led to overproduction and the industry found it tough to adapt to changing conditions.
Quotas to limit dairy production were abolished in April and extra production has caused prices to tumble.