Farmers protest across Europe, press ministers to act By Reuters



© Reuters. Smoke rises from burning tires during a protest of European farmers over price pressures, taxes and green regulation, on the day of an EU Agriculture Ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium February 26, 2024. REUTERS/Yves Herman

By Kate Abnett, David Latona and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk

BRUSSELS/MADRID/WARSAW (Reuters) -Farmers on Monday blocked a border crossing between Poland and Germany, threw bottles at police in Brussels and gathered in Madrid to demand action on cheap supermarket prices and what they say is unfair competition from abroad, including Ukraine.

Agricultural ministers from across the European Union were meeting in Brussels on Monday to discuss the crisis in the sector after weeks of angry protests.

The 27-nation EU has already weakened some parts of its flagship Green Deal environmental policies, scrapping a goal to cut farming emissions from its 2040 climate roadmap.

“We’re here again in Brussels today as farmers because the European Union is not listening to our demands. Our demands are for fair revenue,” said Morgan Ody, general coordinator of farming organisation La Via Campesina.

“We produce the food and we don’t make a living. Why is that? Because of free trade agreements. Because of deregulation. Because the prices are below the costs of production. So we demand the EU to move on this.”

In the margins of the Brussels protest, riot police fired water cannon at protesters throwing bottles and eggs, while about 900 tractors jammed parts of the Belgian capital, a short distance from the cordoned-off area where ministers were meeting.

At a protest in Madrid, farmers from across Spain blew whistles, rang cowbells and beat drums, urging the EU to cut red tape and drop some changes to its Common Agriculture Policy (CAP).

“It’s impossible to stand these rules, they want us to work on the field during the day and deal with paperwork at night – we’re sick of the bureaucracy,” said Roberto Rodriguez, who grows cereal and beetroots in the central province of Avila.

In Poland, farmers blocked the highway at a border crossing with Germany.

“This is a show of common solidarity, that both Polish and German farmers will not allow these goods from Ukraine to continue to enter the European market. It’s a common cause,” said Adrian Wawrzyniak, a spokesperson for the Solidarity farmers’ union.

In Warsaw, Prime Minister Donald Tusk and President Andrzej Duda said farmers’ problems needed fixing at an EU level.

“Poland is the first EU country (on the border with Ukraine), but in fact it is a problem of the EU as a whole, of EU agriculture as a whole, and it should be considered in this context,” Tusk told a press conference.

“The EU should stand firm and resolve this issue at the European level, including supporting Polish farmers.”

The farmers are angry about shipments from Ukraine after an EU decision in 2022 to waive duties on its food exports in the face of the war with Russia.

TIME AT DESK

The EU agriculture ministers were set to debate a new set of proposals to ease the pressure on farmers, including a reduction in farm inspections and the possibility to exempt small farms from some environmental standards.

German Agriculture Minister Cem Ozdemir said the EU needed to ensure farmers could earn good money if they opted for biodiversity and green measures and talked of existing EU farm policy as being a “bureaucracy monster”.

“The average farmer spends a quarter of their time at their desks,” he said.

In response to weeks of protests by angry farmers, the EU has already scrapped a goal to cut farming emissions from its 2040 climate roadmap.

The EU has also withdrawn a law to reduce pesticides and delayed a target for farmers to leave some land fallow to improve biodiversity.

Local grievances vary, and not all farmers call for an end to green rules. La Via Campesina’s Ody called on the EU to set up minimum support prices.

“We are not against climate policies. But we know that in order to do the transition, we need higher prices for products because it costs more to produce in an ecological way,” she said.

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