Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Romanian farmers call for more subsidies

Associated Press

CLUJ, Romania --Some 1,000 farmers and their supporters took to the streets Wednesday in northwestern Romania to call for more government subsidies and to protest what they said was an ongoing lack of government strategy in the agriculture sector.

Hundreds of farmers arrived in the city of Cluj from Transylvania and other regions and drove 25 tractors through the city. Later, hundreds of local residents joined the protest.

"We want to go into Europe, but not on our knees," farmers yelled. "We want to produce, not to import and consume."

They said that the protest was designed to be a "wake up" call to the government in Bucharest and EU policy makers in Brussels. Romania, a country of 22 million, has a large agricultural sector, and half the population lives in rural areas.

Many farmers have tiny plots of land and do not have enough money to buy modern farming equipment, barely surviving on subsistence farming.

"We are protesting a lack of government strategy and incompetence in the agriculture ministry," said Mircea Durea, chairman of the recently created Association of Cow Breeders and Farmers. He said farmers wanted the government to cancel road taxes for farm vehicles and consult farmers about laws affecting the agricultural sector.

Last year, the EU told Romania's government to improve disbursement of EU aid to farmers, raise veterinary standards and farm reforms and create an EU-compatible system for the collection of value added taxes.

On Wednesday, President Traian Basescu called on the government to speed up reforms in the agricultural sector during a government meeting, warning ministers that Romania could lose EU funding for agriculture, the private news agency Mediafax reported. The comments could not be immediately confirmed.

The country joined the EU on Jan. 1.

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