Content:
  1. Poland: farmers as a springboard for politicians
  2. Interests of farmers
  3. France, Spain and Germany: Burial of the Green Deal

Radical Polish politicians are using pan-European farmers' protests for their election campaigns. LIGA.net looked into what the farmers in Germany, France, Spain, Poland, and Romania are really protesting against and who is trying to link Ukrainian agricultural exports to it.

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The video of three tons of Ukrainian grain that provocateurs spilled on the Polish road near the Yahodyn-Dorohusk checkpoint on February 11 quickly went viral in Ukraine. Only the Polish media noted that the original source of this hype image was a post by Rafał Miekler on the X platform (formerly Twitter). This small businessman rose to prominence as a politician during the first wave of protests and headed one of the branches of the right-wing party Confederation of Freedom and Independence. After the last elections, this political force has 7.2% of the votes in parliament, making it the smallest faction.

Poland: farmers as a springboard for politicians

Since February 9, Polish farmers on tractors have been blocking roads in almost 300 cities and towns across the country. Among them are six checkpoints on the Ukrainian-Polish border. The blockade is not tight – traffic at some of them is partially stopped or occurs at certain hours.

The official organizer of the Polish farmers' actions is the Solidarity trade union. They reported that the pickets would lead to "temporary road closures across the country from February 9 to March 10, 2024." Interestingly, this period coincides with preparations for local elections. On April 7, representatives of local authorities will be elected throughout Poland.

That is why Rafał Mekler and his colleagues from the Confederation have become more active near Ukrainian grain trucks. Another frequent visitor to these protests is Michał Kolodziejczak, the state secretary of the Polish Ministry of Agriculture and founder of the AGROunia movement. He took office two months ago, on December 13, 2023. Largely thanks to the first blockade of the Ukrainian border.

Protests and blockades are a breeding ground for AGROunia, a left-wing movement whose rhetoric is based on a strange mix of price controls, budget support for farmers, and preserving the "God-given quality of Polish products."

AGROunia usually accompanies its actions with performances using scattered apples, straw, pigs' heads, etc. This time, Kolodziejczak is promoting the myth of "Ukrainian grain being poisonous" and proposing a 20-year embargo on certain exports from Ukraine, and the introduction of VAT on other goods.

As the election approaches, such fables by politicians will grow in number. There have already been statements about genetically modified components (GMOs) in sugar from Ukraine – as if it were some kind of pollution.

The secretary of state of the Polish Ministry of Agriculture will be surprised, but the United States has been abolishing mandatory GMO labeling on processed foods such as sugar and vegetable oil since 2020. By the way, the United States (along with Ukraine) is one of the top five exporters of agricultural products to the EU.

As for the quality and "non-pollution" of local goods, praised by Polish politicians, according to FAO, the use of pesticides in Poland is three times higher than in Ukraine. The Poles apply 2.14 kg per hectare versus 0.73 kg per hectare in Ukraine. However, it should also be noted that the agrochemicals allowed in Ukraine are cheaper. And it is not always certified for use in the EU.

On the other hand, European farmers receive such amounts of subsidies from the EU budget that their activities already resemble a hobby paid for by taxpayers. Polish farmers received almost 5 billion euros of support in 2022.

Interests of farmers

The union did not specify clear goals of the protest. In its emotional appeal, there is a list of goals that has two rational components. The first is the rejection of the European Commission's position on the liberalization of Ukrainian agricultural imports.

The second is that Polish farmers do not agree to the implementation of the Green Deal and demand the abandonment of the EU's farm-to-table strategy. This slogan is also known as F2F – From Farm to Fork.

It is the demand to bury the Green Deal that unites the protests of Polish farmers with their counterparts in other EU countries.

What is the Green Deal?
The European Green Deal is a plan to ensure Europe's climate neutrality by 2050. The intermediate goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. For the EU's agricultural sector, the 2024 agreement provides for the abolition of fuel tax exemptions, the introduction of a number of conditions for reducing emissions and maintaining biodiversity. The most contentious are GAEC 7 and 8 conditions on crop rotation and keeping land under fallow, as well as reducing the use of agrochemicals.

"The Green Deal calls for significant investments to introduce new biological products, genetically diverse systems, precision farming, and new equipment that is more environmentally friendly. According to the protesters, this will make farming absolutely unprofitable," says Roman Matys, president of NGO International Investment Office.

For example, there is a requirement that starting this year at least 4% of the area must be under fallow (condition GAEC8), as well as strict crop rotation rules (GAEC7). These are the ones that have angered many farmers. Not only in Poland, but also in Romania.

In Romania, the protests were much shorter and calmer than in Poland. This is due not only to the effective response of the authorities, but also to the absence of politicians at the events. As a result, the protests subsided in less than a week. Romanian Agricultural Minister Florin Barbu "channeled" (shifted responsibility) to European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski and promised to get GAEC8 and GAEC7 canceled.

Importantly, Barbu kept his word: On February 13, the European Commission announced the easing of GAEC8 conditions. Now it is not only about keeping the land under fallow, but also about using it to grow nitrogen fixers, such as peas, lentils or other crops without the use of pesticides.

At the same time, the government, with the support of the parliament, extended the loan repayment holidays for farmers affected by the drought.

By the way, the organizers of the protests in Romania also used stories about the GMO threat from Ukraine. In this country, among other things, there were accusations of "contaminated" Ukrainian chicken. But now they apologize for being emotional.

"Our protest has achieved its goal. We are with Ukraine. We want a partnership. It was the Romanian politicians who tried to use you (Ukrainian farmers – ed.) to make us envious. Ukraine should remain a strategic partner," Danut Andrus, the leader of Romanian farmers, told LIGA.net.

Another reason for Romanian farmers' complaisance is that the country's agriculture is based on large agricultural holdings, not small and medium-sized farms, as in Poland. At the same time, the importance of the agricultural sector for the Romanian economy is much greater than for the Polish economy.

France, Spain and Germany: Burial of the Green Deal

In the countries of Old Europe, farmers are most outraged by attempts to abolish fuel privileges and restrictions on the use of pesticides. For some time, tractors were driving through the streets of Berlin, and the French capital was also affected. In Belgium and the Netherlands, the roads to ports were blocked as sources of cheap imports.

As a result, attempts to strictly implement new environmental regulations to promote the Green Deal provoked farmers' protests across Europe. It is in this conflict that farmers are fighting for the main funds. And they seem to be winning.

At the same time, Ukrainian agricultural exports play only a secondary role, like the mythical "bogeyman," the fight against which can be easily modeled by blocking borders, ports, and spilling grain. As for the real importance of agricultural products from Ukraine, they are still in demand among European livestock farmers, in various areas of the processing industry, from food to energy production.