MORE than 8,000 farmers marched on Cardiff yesterday (Sunday) to lobby the European leaders summit, calling for an immediate end to the export ban on British beef.
Euro ministers were in Cardiff to mark the end of Britains six-month presidency of the European Union which finishes on 31 June.
Dr Jack Cunningham, the agriculture minister, figured highly on the “hate” list. Bob Parry, president of the Farmers Union of Wales, described Dr Cunningham as “the enemy within”, whose principal allegiance was to the Chancellor, not farmers.
Incomes on Wales 29,000 farmholdings have dropped by up to 80% in the past two years. They have been hit by a double whammy of the BSE crisis and the strong Pound.
A Scottish contingent at the protest were more concerned with Britains Euro membership. George Lyon, president of the Scottish National Farmers Union, called for the Government to state that it would join the European monetary union at the earliest opportunity.
Mr Lyon said: “We would then see Sterling start to move towards a more realistic rate. It would do more to lift farming income than any other measure.”
Tony Blair, the British prime minister, said: “I totally understand and sympathise with the plight of the farmers, which is why we have been working so hard to get the beef ban lifted. I can assure people in the farming industry we are alive to their feelings.”
Meanwhile, Mr Blair is expected to used the final hours of British presidency to press EU leaders to commit themselves to reform on farm subsidies. He will call on ministers to stick to their guns and support the Agenda 2000 package which aims to reform the EUs Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) by early next year.
Mr Blair is also expected to come into conflict with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl who is demanding a cut in German contributions to the EUs £61 billion budget. Mr Kohl wants Germanys contribution slashed by one third. He has mustered the support of Netherlands, Sweden and Austria who are also calling for a reduction in their contributions.
Mr Kohl also said Britains rebate system – set up under the Thatcher Government – should be up for review. The UK Government has strongly defended its rebate system with Robin Cook, foreign secretary, reiterating that the rebate can only be changed by “unanimous decision” from member states.
Most “southern” member states, led by Spain, will resist attempts to change their position from net beneficiaries of the budget.
- The Times 15/06/98 page 1, page 12, page 13, page 22, page 23
- The Independent 15/06/98 page 1, page 3, page 4, page 10
- Financial Times 15/06/98 page 2, page 23
- The Guardian 15/06/98 page 9, page 17 (Editorial)
- The Daily Telegraph 15/06/98 page 1, page 10, page 20