On November 21st, more than 200,000 Spanish farmers (according to union organizers) flocked to Madrid’s streets protesting a drop in prices and farming income. According to the three agricultural organizations organizing the protest, Asaja, Coag, and Upa, farming income has decreased by 26% in Spain between 2003 and 2008, while production costs have increased by 34%. Following on from farmers’ protests in France in October, Spanish farmers are calling for fair prices, market regulation, appropriate taxation, and a finance plan for their sector. Some do not hesitate to assert that José Luiz Zapatero’s government must do what French President Nicolas Sarkozy did: announce the implementation of subsidies and low-interest loans for farmers.
Beyond the event itself, it is striking to see such repetition: yesterday in France, today in Spain – which country will be next to see farmers decry their situation? Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait for farmers’ protests to reach every European country before the European Union takes the situation in hand with a strong, appropriate response. All farmers are confronted with the same problems: price volatility on international markets regularly forces many farms into operating below their break-even point. An appropriate regulatory policy must therefore be implemented in order to improve not only the situation of European farmers, but also to ensure the continued existence of agriculture in Europe.
While the reaction of Spanish farmers highlights the seriousness of the situation, let us hope that this experience proves useful for the Spanish government, which will hold presidency of the European Union for the first half of 2010.