Thousands of farmers protest EU reforms
Many fear job losses
February 22, 1999
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- Thousands of angry farmers took to the streets of Brussels on Monday to protest the European Union's planned agriculture reform, which many farmers fear may drive them out of business.
Police used water cannon and tear gas when some of the estimated 40,000 farmers from across Europe tried to break through the police cordon at the EU headquarters, where agriculture ministers were beginning week-long reform discussions.
The EU's executive Commission has proposed cutting guaranteed prices by up to 30 percent and offering partial compensation through direct aid payments to farmers. The reforms mostly would affect the cereals and beef sectors as well as the milk markets.
Franz Fischler, the architect of the reform proposals, says change is needed if the EU wants to be ready for an eastward expansion. But farmers fear the reforms will damage their incomes or even put them out of business.
"We demand justice for farmers," said Luc Guyau, president of the COPA European farmers union, which organized the rally. "Whatever happens, we farmers must be guaranteed full compensation for income losses which we may suffer as a result of price cuts."
The sounds of wailing horns and firecrackers were heard as the farmers, many carrying black flags, set off for the march. Some protesters went straight to the barbed wire fences and confronted the 4,500-member security force, slamming flag poles into police shields and throwing firecrackers at officers.
Farm leaders played down the fighting.
"The farmers are not in Brussels to destroy, they are here to defend their livelihood," said Belgian farm leader Jean-Pierre Champagne.
About a month from now, EU leaders are scheduled to meet for a summit in Berlin where the reform package is supposed to be wrapped up. The reforms should pave the way for an expansion from 15 to 20 or more member states.
The stakes and interests in reforming the 35-year-old Common Agriculture Policy are huge.
Germany, for instance, is the biggest net contributor to EU coffers. The gap between what it pays in and what it gets out is currently in excess of $12 billion a year, prompting German calls for lesser contributions.
Ireland's net receipts from Brussels, on the other hand, recently peaked at a level equivalent to nearly 4 percent of the country's GDP. Those financial injections have been a major factor in Ireland's dynamic growth over the past 10 years.
Germany urges swift reform of European Union
Information Service on Agriculture in Europe
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