Struggling farmers secured a €500 million aid package from the European Commission to help them cope with plummeting prices for diary and meat that has resulted partly from a Russian embargo against EU food.
EU agriculture ministers held an emergency meeting in Brussels on Monday while nearly 5,000 farmers with more than 1,000 tractors coming from all over Europe brought the Belgian capital to a standstill.
Jyrki Katainen, the vice-president of the European Commission, said the package would focus on helping farmers with cash-flow difficulties, stabilizing markets and making sure farmers get paid properly for their produce. Another suggestion is that EU states swap best practises to standardise the milk industry.
The new measures will include targeted aid for all 28 member states, better storage schemes to reduce market supply, and the ability for member states to advance aid to farmers more quickly.
Mr Katainen described the package as a "robust and decisive response" to the price drop that has beset the dairy industry in particular.
"This package will allow for €500 million of EU funds to be used for the benefit of farmers immediately," Mr Katainen said. "This response demonstrates that the Commission takes its responsibility towards farmers very seriously and is prepared to back it up with the appropriate funds. This is particularly important, given other competing budgetary demands. "
Meurig Raymon, president of the National Farmer Union (NFU), has welcomed the move. But he said it is still unclear how much of the package will be received by the UK.
He also said it was disappointing that the Commission had refused to intervene to raise milk prices.
"It is disappointing that the Commission won’t review the intervention price in the dairy sector because we feel it has a role to play. An increase in the price could help put a price floor in the market and boost confidence in the dairy sector. We will continue to press the Commission on this point,” Mr Raymon said.
The plan was also criticized by Copa, a European farmers’ organisation, and its partner Cogeca, which represents agriculture cooperatives involved in Monday’s protest.
"An aid package of €500 million is nowhere enough to compensate farmers for the loss of their main export market, Russia, worth €5.5 billion annually," Pekka Pesonen, head of Copa-Cogeca, said in a statement. "EU farmers are paying the price for international politics."
The ministers agreed to hold further negotiations to prepare for a new round of talks next week.
In June, Moscow extended its embargo on food imports from Western countries until August 2016.
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