Economy / Food / Foreign relations

The Italian dairy sector from quotas to deregulation

The Italians used to be very pro-EU, simply because they felt than any “foreign” Institution would be better than their own. Today their love for Brussels has faded almost completely. This is due to the crisis and austerity, of course, but if you had to find the first episode of widespread anti-EU sentiment in Italy, that would probably be the case of the milk quotas.

The European Union is usually a champion of free market, but the agricoltural sector is a blatant exception, being submitted to a protectionist, Soviet-style command policy.

In the framework of the said policy, every Member State is assigned a quota of milk production which is then spread between the individual producers. Since Italians will never obey a law or a rule, whatever it is, many Italian producers exceeded their quota and were therefore fined. They showed excellent lobbying skills, with the Authorities seldom daring to compel them to actually pay despite the pressure from Brussels; yesterday, for example, the European Commission announced that Italy was deferred to the EU Court of Justice for failing to recover the dues.

In a few months, anyway, the quota system will be phased out and the dairy market fully liberalised. Are the Italian producers happy? No, they are not. They are already compelled to sell milk to a very low price, and they are afraid that the liberalisation could just make matters worse.

The Italian public would react very badly to the allegation that the local milk producers are being kicked out of the market by the “Brussels bureaucrats”. In the past, the producers didn’t exitate to occupy the highways with their tractors, sometimes shooting manure at the police. This time, they could count on a general atmosphere which is much more hostile to the European Institutions.

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