During this week’s debate in the Assembly on the farming crisis, TUV MLA and former MEP, Jim Allister, hit out at the EU Commission’s approach both in creating the crisis and in refusing the relief to solve it.
In the course of his remarks Mr Allister said: “Of course, it is right that the Assembly should debate this important issue, but there needs to be recognition of the reality that, above all, our agriculture policy, courtesy of our membership of the EU, is set not by this House, not even by DEFRA, but by the unelected European Commission. It is the Commission that has steered the ship of European agriculture onto the rocks, as far as many of the aspects of this crisis are concerned.
“Of course, it was the Commission that was determined not to be turned on the issue of the abolition of milk quotas, as someone else referred to. That, in part, has fuelled the crisis in our industry. It was the European Union that took the big geopolitical decisions that have aggravated the crisis in Russian imports. It was not farmers who decided the geopolitical path that Europe would tread; it was the faceless bureaucrats of Brussels, by and large, who took that path, and now it is the farmers of Europe who are left to pick up the pieces.
“It would be remiss not to identify the fact that the European Union, being in control of our policy, has much of the responsibility for the current crisis. Therefore, when its response is to slam the door on the only short-term salvation for the dairy industry, namely an increase in intervention, it makes the situation so much the worse. Every major player in the dairy industry across the world has some mechanism akin to intervention.
“The United States of America has its margin protection policy, which is there as a safety net. In the EU, we have a safety net, but it is one that has not been serviced since 2003 because there has been no upgrade in the level to make its impact significant and positive. By refusing to take that action, the Commission compounds the crisis.
“Of course, intervention would do two things: it would provide an immediate bottom to the market, which is what it needs, but more than that and, long-term, more important than that, it would provide the trader confidence that is lost in the market on which growth and recovery would be built.
“In addition, it would not be a loss for the European Union because experience of intervention is that, when the market turns on foot of intervention, the people who make the money are the European Commission because it cashes in by selling, at a much higher price, the product that it bought in at an intervention price. It is beyond comprehension, for an agency that has control of our policy, why it is so resistant to helping the industry through this crisis.
“Therefore, much of the blame and the responsibility needs to be put where it belongs: on the EU and our membership of it. Yes, DARD could do more. It has sat on its hands, for example, with the capacity for over a year to introduce the October single farm payments. It has done nothing to revise the system to make that possible in the year that that has been approved from elsewhere. DARD, with DETI, puts its hand to ‘Going for Growth’, which is a fine document in many ways but one that seems to forget that the first priority surely is to protect the producers that we have.
He added: “In protecting the producers that we have, we have to adopt policies that are not just this flamboyant, expansive notion that the abolition of milk quotas and everything else feeds into. Then, when the crisis comes, they want to pass the parcel. This parcel of responsibility rests primarily in Brussels.”