Visegrad, Baltic farmers rally against EU policies, backed by national governments



Farmers from eastern European and Baltic countries – namely the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Bulgaria – joined forces on Thursday to protest against EU policies, with many of their governments either supporting the farmers or at least expressing their understanding.

In a joint memorandum seen by Euractiv, the Agrarian Chambers of these countries reject any limits on the size of agricultural production, call for the cancellation of the EU-Ukraine duty-free agreement and call for the simplification of the rules of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The basic instructions of the protests are that farmers should drive tractors and other agricultural equipment to border crossings to meet colleagues from other countries.

The main focus of the action will be the Czech-Slovak border, where representatives of the Czech Chamber of Agriculture, the Slovak Chamber of Agriculture and Food and the Hungarian Chamber of Agriculture will meet and give speeches.

The protest is being supported – in any form – by farmers from Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, and Slovenia.

“The fact that today farmers are protesting throughout the European Union is clear evidence that it is essential to address the redefinition of the terms of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy,” the joint memorandum of agrarian chambers reads.

The farmers’ organisations agreed on several demands, mainly addressed to the European Commission.

Firstly, they reject any compulsory limitation on the scale of agricultural production and call for “the abolition of all legislation that in any way disadvantages European farmers vis-à-vis third-country farmers”. Farmers support the introduction of mirror clauses to prevent imports of goods that do not meet EU standards.

They also call on the EU Commission to carry out an impact assessment when introducing new rules.

Secondly, farmers are calling for the cancellation or substantial modification of the EU-Ukraine trade liberalisation agreement.

“An import tax must be imposed on Ukrainian production, for the duration of the war conflict, in the form of a refundable deposit to be returned to traders when goods are shipped outside European markets,” agrarian chambers claim. They also proposed to process all the surplus imported from Ukraine into biofuels.

Thirdly, farmers want simplification and a reduction in red tape. In particular, they call for a reduction in physical controls and the effective use of the satellite monitoring system. Farmers are also calling for the permanent abolition of three of the CAP’s “Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions” (GAEC) – GAEC 6, 7 and 8 – which lay down minimum soil cover, crop rotation and the minimum proportion of agricultural land to be set aside from production.

National governments back protests

Thursday’s protests are not against governments but directly against EU policies, unlike the demonstrations in France where farmers demanded concessions from the French government.

The governments of Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic are even supporting the farmers in their protests, or at least expressing understanding.

“I understand Thursday’s protests and the demands of farmers in some European countries,” Czech Agriculture Minister Marek Výborný told Euractiv Czechia.

“I agree with farmers on the reduction of pointless and unnecessary bureaucracy. That is why, at the last Council of the EU meeting in Brussels, I tabled a separate point on behalf of the Czech Republic, in which we demanded that the European Commission amend the methodology for checks as soon as possible so that there would be significantly fewer of them,” Výborný said.

In Poland, too, the protests were mainly against EU policy, not the government’s agenda. Donald Tusk’s government has been very supportive of farmers, with Agriculture Minister Czeslaw Siekierski and his deputies regularly meeting with protesters.

While Siekierski is lobbying the EU Council on behalf of the farmers, Prime Minister Tusk has announced that, on his initiative, the protesters’ concerns will be discussed at the next European Council in March.

Words of support are also coming from the Slovak Minister of Agriculture, Richard Takác, who supports the protests and plans to attend them in person, despite not being invited by the Slovak Chamber of Agriculture and Food (SPPK).

“This protest is mainly aimed at the European Commission. Against the nonsense that the European Commission wants to adopt, against the various bureaucracy that turns farmers into officials,” Minister Richard Takáč said on social media a few days ago.

Slovak agrarian organisations were also in agreement. “The EU policies are too ambitious and unrealistic and have not been communicated with us in any way,” said Andrej Gajdoš, the deputy chairman of the SPPK.

Poland blames Commissioner Wojciechowski

With Poland holding the agriculture portfolio in Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission, there have been calls in both government and opposition for European Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski to be removed from his post.

Defence Minister Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, who, like Wojciechowski in the distant past, led the agrarian Polish People’s Party (PSL, EPP), accused Wojciechowski of supporting the European Green Deal against the interests of Polish farmers and called on him to resign.

Wojciechowski refused to resign, arguing that commissioners should not take instructions from their national governments or parties.

He also said that no farmers’ organisation wanted his dismissal, and Euractiv’s talks with farmers generally confirmed that they were satisfied with the commissioner’s performance.

The call for Wojciechowski’s resignation is “incomprehensible”, Jacek Zarzecki of the Polish Union of Agricultural Producers told Euractiv. He recalled that Wojciechowski was the only member of the Commission to oppose the continuation of liberalised trade rules with Ukraine.

Slovak farmers make no mention of Janusz Wojciechowski. On the other hand, the SPPK criticised a former EU Commissioner for Climate Action, Frans Timmermans, saying it was he who “came up with this green mess, ran away and left it on the shoulders of the Vice-President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič who now needs to deal with it”.

Timmermans is often mentioned by Czech agricultural representatives, who also oppose the environmental and climate requirements of the European Green Deal.

As for Wojciechowski, the Czech agriculture minister hopes that he will push forward demands related to excessive bureaucracy.

Indeed, the EU Commission is expected to present a non-paper on simplifying agricultural policy on Thursday. However, the date of publication could be subject to change and its specific content is also unclear.

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