Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The peasants are revolting

While Belgian police were being kept busy in Brussels dealing with demonstrations against Bush, they were not the only ones. In Budapest, Hungary, thousands of Hungarian farmers were also staging a demonstration - with not a US president in sight.

This demonstration was partly about non-payment of their EU subsidies but the farmers were also demanding the government protect them from what they call a flood of cheap imports.

Farmers from throughout the country drove to Budapest on some 900 tractors Monday and parked them in the town centre. Backed by 15 farmers associations, they then threatened to stay put 1 March if the government failed to meet their demands.

At the heart of the protest is an allegation that the government has only paid out only nine percent of 220 billion forints (€905 million) in CAP subsidies set aside for 2004.

The government admits it is behind schedule with payments and the chairman of the governing Socialist Party pledged on public TV pay up "within a conceivable time" – whatever that means. Agriculture minister Imre Nemeth also chipped in, expressing "personal dissatisfaction" with the funds payment office.

But this may not be so easy. The EU commission has repeatedly pointed out failings in the Hungarian government system, complaining about its sluggishness in carrying out the necessary technological and administrative arrangements to secure the timely payment of subsidies.

Oddly enough, British farmers are going through the same problems, with December payments due from the government's Rural Payments Agency having been delayed until at least March because of a failed computer system. only in this case, the peasants are not revolting. They just write angry letters to the farming press.

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