Spaniards Protest Lower Olive Quota
MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Thousands of protesters carrying olive branches Wednesday demonstrated against proposed European Union quotas that they say would threaten Spanish olive production.
Olives dumped at the entrance to the Agriculture Ministry were trampled underfoot during the protest by farmers, laborers and their families. Estimates of the demonstration ranged from 20,000 to 40,000.
The protest was timed to coincide with the release, at European Union headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, of a proposal that would lower Spain’s quota for olive oil production. It was part of a wider plan to overhaul the 15-nation group’s agricultural policy.
If the proposed changes are accepted by EU farm ministers and the European Parliament, a ceiling of about 625,000 metric tons would be imposed on the annual production of Spanish olive oil. That would be some 150,000 metric tons less than the country’s current average.
The proposal would include possible penalties for excess production, fewer subsidies overall and, over time, the loss of thousands of jobs, protesters contended.
They demanded a 900,000-metric-ton quota, about 50 percent of total EU production.
``We will continue (demonstrating) until we get the 50 percent,″ union leader Jose Manuel de las Heras told the rally outside the Agricultural Ministry.
In Brussels, meanwhile, EU farm chief Franz Fischler suggested a transition period, starting Nov. 1, to gradually put in place the reforms by Nov. 1, 2001.
Fischler said the two-year grace period would not lead to a postponement of changes, which he termed crucial to the survival of the EU olive oil sector.
Olive oil production also would be curbed in France, Greece, Italy and Portugal.
Spanish government and opposition political party leaders took part in the protest. But most demonstrators were rural workers bused in from the southern region of Andalucia where most of Spain’s olive groves are found, national television reported.
Spain’s olive groves stretch across more than 5 million acres and earn some 235 billion pesetas ($1.6 billion) a year. The growers receive more than 100 billion pesetas ($600 million) in annual EU subsidies.