ANALYSIS - Aggressive protest action by French farmers in blocking the country’s borders in protest over poor milk and meat prices has brought a backlash from both Germany and the Netherlands.
The French farmers stopped lorries importing farm produce from Germany and Spain, in a border protest over what they call unfair price competition.
The action by the farmers at the end of July saw them park tractors to block roads at least six roads linking France and Germany in the Strasbourg region.
The French farmers have been hit by lower meat consumption, reduced demand from China and a Russian ban on EU food imports and the government estimates that up to 10 per cent of French farmers could be facing bankruptcy.
In south-west France, farmers recently blocked the main road from Spain with tractors threatening to remove meat and fruit destined for the French market.
However, the German agriculture minister Christian Schmidt condemned the moves by the French farmers.
He said that the current situation with producer prices needs to be handled with care.
“A downward price spiral will not help anyone – not the producers and not the consumers,” said Dr Schmidt.
“Our milk is worth a good price and the producers must be able to live on it.”
But in an interview on German radio, Dr Schmidt condemned the action being taken by the French farmers.
“We are in a single market. There are agricultural products coming from France as well as going to France and I do not see the French farmers or whoever blocking exports from their country, so they should not block imports.
“We are in a single market and this must be respected.”
In response to France’s President Francois Hollande’s call for French people to only eat French food, Dr Schmidt said that as with the campaign to “Buy British” several years ago, the German government did not agree with dictating trading campaigns such as this to companies and that they were not in accordance with the rules or the spirit of the internal market.
Replying to the accusations from the French farmers of unfair wage practices in Germany upsetting the market, Dr Schmidt said that it was all a question of being competitive.
He said that during the times of milk quotas over 30 years the structure of the German dairy industry was not particularly good.
“But it has improved significantly and made itself competitive,” he said.
He said that the situation had to be discussed on a European basis and taken as a whole and he added: “The last three years were pretty good years – this year is a very difficult year.”
He said demand has shrunk and export markets are not as strong but the sector has increased supply.
He said that part of the answer to the problems faced by dairy farmers across the EU was to increase exports as well as being able to negotiate a good price for the producers.
“We have export markets in sight, especially China and we have to stay there and compete,” he said.
He said that some protection had to be given to dairy farmers and he added that he is working closely with the French agriculture minister Stéphan Le Foll to put forward proposals to the special meeting of the council of agriculture ministers on 7 September.
In a separate statement Dr Schmidt said: “I have repeatedly pointed out that I assume that the rules of the EU internal market are complied with.
“My French counterpart M. Le Foll has assured me in our conversation, that he will raise again with the French farmers the issue of their protests at border crossings with Germany.
“In addition n we have agreed to exchange views on the situation in the European agricultural markets before the council of EU agriculture ministers on 7 September.”
The action taken by the German farmers was also attacked by the Dutch dairy association (NZO)
“The measures taken to hinder imports of foreign agricultural products and the fact that French retail is saying it should only sell French agricultural products does not solve the current difficult market conditions in the dairy sector,” the association said.
“Blockades by French farmers cause disproportionate damage to non-French suppliers of agricultural products.
“All farmers in all European Member States are faced with the consequences of the current difficult market conditions.
“The French dairy farmers are just as dependent on the European market and export markets as the farmers in other European countries.
“A well-functioning EU market is in the interests of all stakeholders in the chain, as well as the French farmers.”
Top image via Shutterstock