BRUSSELS — A majority of West Europeans questioned in a poll released Tuesday said they think that a major farm crisis is approaching and that their governments should protect farmers from imports.
The survey also said most Europeans believe that financially weak farms will disappear and that Europe's current agricultural policies benefit big producers at the expense of small family farms.
The results come at a critical juncture in the European Economic Community's effort to limit its farm subsidies as a way of halting the buildup of surplus products and easing tensions on global markets.
Disagreement over the future direction of farm policy is at the heart of an EEC money crisis that has virtually paralyzed the world's largest trading bloc.
EEC heads of government are to meet in Brussels next week in a fresh attempt to resolve the agriculture issues.
The survey was conducted by a group of European polling institutes as part of a regular series of surveys for the EEC's executive body.
Spent $32 Billion
Although opinions varied widely among the 12 Common Market countries participating in the survey, a clear majority throughout the region said financial aid to farming should remain a top public priority.
The Common Market last year spent the equivalent of $32 billion on farm programs, or about two-thirds of its total budget.
Fifty-nine percent of the 12,000 people questioned said EEC subsidies to farmers are a good thing, although only about one-third said that either consumers or farmers have benefited from the EEC members' joint policy of fixing farm prices at well above the world level.
Support for aid to farmers was strongest in Italy, Greece and Luxembourg and weakest in France, Britain and Belgium.
When asked if Europe was headed for a major crisis in agriculture, 59% said they completely or mostly agreed. The Danes, with 70%, and West Germans, with 66%, were most worried.
Seventy-one percent said market pressures will force the least profitable farms to close.
Responses to some survey questions indicated that consumers believe they are paying too much for farm products, and only about one-third agreed that taxpayers should be subsidizing exports of European farm products.
Even so, 71% said in response to a separate question that the European Economic Community should defend its position as the world's second-largest exporter of agricultural products, behind the United States.
French Most Protectionist
Fifty-one percent said European farmers should be protected from import competition, even if that meant higher consumer prices.
The French took the most protectionist view, with 67% in favor of limiting imports, while the Dutch, at 40%, were least protectionist.