Italian farmers go sour on Europe

After living a fairy-tale life of subsidies and cosy government protection for the past 15 years, Italy's dairy farmers have suddenly come face-to-face with the reality of European integration - and they don't like it one bit.

Since 1982 they have been ignoring milk-production quotas imposed by Brussels and getting Rome to pick up the tab for fines they incur. But with monetary union just around the corner and Italy desperate to clean up its act so it can join the single currency on time, the tables have turned against them.

A few days ago the country's 105,000 farmers were told they would have to pay their own fines for 1996 - some 370bn lire (pounds 150m) - and would be expected to stick to European production limits. The result has been a revolt, with tractors out on the roads and farmers threatening a French- style blockade of Italy's main cities. In Milan, the tractors have cut off access to Linate airport, forcing passengers to drag their luggage several hundred metres on foot.

Much of the anger has focused on the same government that bailed the farmers out for years. Umberto Bossi's Northern League has muscled in on the act, portraying the stand-off as a conflict between honest farmers and heartless bureaucrats, as has the far-right opposition National Alliance.

The saga stretches back to 1982, when Rome first fell out with the European Commission on milk production. The Commission, seeking to curb over-production, set one quota and Rome, worried about its dwindling agricultural sector, unilaterally set another - thus sparking a "milk war" that lasted more than 10 years.

Periodically there were attempts to resolve the crisis, but the result was always an excess of Italian milk production and a flurry of fines that the government invariably chose to pay itself. It was an unrealistic situation, but one that the farmers became comfortable with.

As the commentator Giorgio Bocca wrote this week: "Farmers got the idea that the European Community was itself one enormous cow for the milking."

Since the protests began last week, the centre-left government led by Romano Prodi has been pulled in both directions at once.

It is desperate to clear one of the worst blots in its European copybook and relieve the public finances of a burden it can no longer afford. But the last thing it wants at a time of Maastricht-imposed austerity is a widespread outpouring of anti-European bile.

Its answer has thus been to plead in Brussels on the farmers' behalf. Yesterday the Agriculture Minister, Michele Pinto, asked his European partners for a more generous quota, pointing out that under the present regime Italy would have to import more than 40 per cent of its milk. Today Mr Prodi will meet the farmers to explain the sudden reverse in their fortunes. The farmers themselves, though, are in no mood to be fobbed off with lessons in the hard economic truth. Yesterday the tractors were still out at Linate and more protests have been threatened if they do not quickly get their way.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before