Farmers in Eastern and Southern Europe Protest Against EU Agricultural and Climate Policies

Ella Kietlinska
By Ella Kietlinska
February 10, 2024Europe
Farmers in Eastern and Southern Europe Protest Against EU Agricultural and Climate Policies
Farmers driving in a heavy-duty tractor into the western city of Poznan as part of a nationwide farmer protest against European Union's agrarian policy and imports of cheap Ukraine produce, in Poznan, Poland, on Feb. 9, 2024. (Czarek Sokolowski /AP Photo)

Farmers in Poland, Spain, Italy, and Hungary demonstrated Friday as part of ongoing protests against European Union farming policies and demanded measures to combat production cost hikes, reduced profits, and unfair competition from non-EU countries.

Farmers complain that the 27-nation EU’s environmental and agriculture policies related to the European Green Deal are a financial burden and make their products more expensive than non-EU imports.

Imports of cheap grain, milk, and other produce from neighboring Ukraine particularly impacted Polish farmers. In protest, they drove their tractors across the country to slow traffic and block major roads. Tractors carried Polish flags and honked horns, and some displayed signs that read “Stop the Green Deal” and “Stop Imports From Ukraine.”

The Polish farmers’ trade union “Solidarity,” which organized the protests, unsatisfied with the EU’s concessions, called on the Polish government to ensure the profitability of Polish agriculture and rebuild the Polish agro-processing sector, as in its opinion, they are not protected under the “European Green Deal” currently being implemented.

The European Green Deal is the European Union’s initiative to fight climate change and environmental degradation, which the EU considers “an existential threat to Europe and the world,” according to a policy statement by the European Commission.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has made some concessions to farmers over the last few weeks, but the protests have spread.

The concessions included temporarily relaxing the rule obligating farmers to keep 4 percent of their arable land fallow or unproductive. The rule was replaced with a requirement to allocate 7 percent of the farm’s land to growing, without using pesticides, nitrogen-fixing crops, or certain crops used as fodder for animals or green manure.

As for imports from Ukraine, the European Commission proposed to cap the imports of poultry, eggs, and sugar from Ukraine if they exceed the levels from 2022 and 2023.

Szymon Kosmalski, 39, a Polish farmer from Komorniki, who participated in the protest in Poznan, Poland, told Reuters that agricultural products entering Poland through the eastern border with Ukraine do not comply with the EU’s safety standards.

“My farm and my family personally feel these effects,” Mr. Kosmalski said, explaining that the current prices of the grain he produces—mainly corn and wheat—“are so low that they do not even cover 100 percent of the production costs.”

Mr. Kosmalski said the reason for such low grain prices is that the Ukrainian grain is not tested for heavy metals and plant protection products prohibited in EU countries but can be used in Ukraine.

“We expect inspections of products entering the country. As agricultural producers and fruit growers, we must meet many directives imposed on us,” Mr. Kosmalski said. “If goods enter from outside the EU, they should also meet these requirements [but] there are no such controls.”

The protests took place at over 260 locations across Poland on Friday, according to the Polish newspaper “Rzeczpospolita.”

A few hundred tractors blocked a junction on a highway in the Lower Silesia region of Poland, Rzeczpospolita reported.

In Poznan, farmers parked about 1,000 tractors in front of the regional government offices, Voice of America reported. Protesters lit flares there and placed a coffin, symbolizing the death of Polish agriculture, as well as a manure-filled wheelbarrow with an EU flag stuck in it. There was no violence reported.

Polish farmers also blocked several border crossings with Ukraine, slowing down traffic at checkpoints, according to Polish News Agency (PAP).

Poland’s agriculture minister Czeslaw Siekierski admitted in a statement that opening the EU market to Ukrainian agricultural products to that big extent was a mistake.

He asked farmers “not to make the protests too burdensome” and to end the blockades as soon as possible, but he also asked people to show their understanding towards farmers, the statement said.

German Farmers

German farmers in the Polish border region joined their Polish colleagues in their protest on Friday.

Farmers in Germany have been protesting across the country against the government’s decision to phase out a tax break on agricultural diesel.

A farmers’ backlash had already prompted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition to make unexpected changes to the budget. But farmers said this did not go far enough.

German farmer, Kay Weiseman, participating in the protest, told Reuters: “We’re not only farmers, we’re craftsmen, small business owners, haulage contractors—we are all here, not just the German farmers and not just the Polish farmers, but also everyone is there on the street.”

EU Agriculture Head Under Pressure

Polish politicians called on the EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, to resign amidst the protests.

Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz said on Friday at the Polish Parliament that the government understands the cause of farmers’ protests.

“The lack of profitability is tragic,” Mr. Kosiniak-Kamysz admitted, blaming Mr. Wojciechowski for the EU’s agricultural policies and calling him to resign.

Mr. Wojciechowski, the Polish member of the European Commission, was also criticized by the leader of the former ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) that proposed him for the position.

The commission is comprised of 27 commissioners—one from each EU country.

PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski told journalists at the parliament that he would ask Mr. Wojciechowski to step down, according to PAP.

Mr. Wojciechowski told TV station Polsat News that he would not cave in to the pressure and would not resign.

The day before the protests, Mr. Wojciechowski published an open letter to Polish farmers on X, formerly known as Twitter, in which he touted the two EU concessions that Polish farmers found insufficient and staged protests. In the letter, Mr. Wojciechowski also promised to propose to the commission additional benefits for EU farmers.

Hungarian Farmers

Hundreds of Hungarian farmers gathered on Friday to protest against constraints imposed on them by EU measures to tackle climate change, as well as the suspension of import duties on Ukrainian exports for another year,

About 1,000 farmers protested on Friday at the border crossing to Ukraine in the town of Zahorny, according to The Budapest Times.

Farmers carried Hungarian flags and signs reading “Brussels is letting us down” and “No farmers, no food, no future.”

Italian Farmers

In Italy, a small convoy of tractors moved across Rome’s historical center to the Colosseum, escorted by police patrols.

The symbolic convoy of four tractors, whose colors represent the colors of the Italian national flag, was part of a group of more than 500 tractors parking in the suburbs of Rome, waiting for permission to enter the city, according to “The Local it.”

Italian farmers have been peacefully protesting outside of Rome and across the country for days to express their discontent with the EU’s climate regulations and income taxes.

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly said that her government has already addressed some of the farmers’ key requests, but many of them feel neglected.

A meeting between a delegation of farmers’ institutional organizations and Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida has been called for Friday afternoon. Many Italian farmers say they don’t feel represented by large sector associations, which they say are removed from their daily struggles.

Spanish Farmers

On Friday, Spanish farmers blocked streets across the country in a fourth day of protests and announced plans to gather in Madrid as they railed against the EU’s climate rules and what they see as excessive taxes and red tape.

On Friday, traffic on the A-2 highway to Madrid near the central town of Torija snarled behind a convoy of tractors bearing Spanish flags and blaring their horns while farmers wearing yellow vests waved baguettes from an overpass at the vehicles below.

Spanish farmers also complain about unfair competition from non-EU countries that do not have to abide by EU’s strict regulations and sell their goods in the EU market at lower prices, according to “The Local es.”

According to the newspaper El Mundo, protesters clashed with police near the southwestern city of Merida, lobbing rocks at officers, who deployed tear gas to disperse them.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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