Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 608, 1 March 2024

Poland: The Farmers' protest on Ukraine grain and EU regulations
Manoranjan Kumar

In the news
On 28 February, Reuters reported that thousands of Polish farmers flooded the streets of Warsaw, displaying the national flag and sounding handheld horns, intensifying their protest against Ukrainian food imports and EU environmental regulations. They demand the government to withdraw from the EU's Green Deal and halt imports of agricultural products.

On the same day, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk stated that he could not rule out widening a national ban on Ukrainian grains to other products if the EU does not act to protect the bloc's markets. He stated: "We want to help Ukraine, but it cannot be done through actions that are lethal to whole areas of the economy."

On 26 February, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov stated that Kyiv sent a note to Warsaw demanding the Polish authorities find and punish the guilty. The statement came after, on 21 February, protestors blocked the border and opened railway carriages, letting 160 tonnes of grains spill out.

On 22 February, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated: "The commission remains committed to delivering solutions to ease the pressure currently felt by our hard-working farming women and men. We are easing the administrative burden on our farmers to help them guarantee food security for European citizens. Simplification of our agriculture policies is a constant priority, at both EU and national level. With this range of actions, we are delivering on the pledge we made to our farmers to accelerate this discussion. I look forward to hearing the views of our Member States." 

Issues at large
First, the farmers' protests across the EU. Farmers across the EU, including Germany, France, Poland, Spain, Greece, and Portugal, face various challenges. Their major concerns are the following: falling selling prices; rising energy, fertilizer, and transportation costs; heavy regulations or red-tapism; debt, cheap imports, and climate change; and new EU green regulations based on the EU agricultural system. Several concerns are country-specific; however, the majority of them are continent-wide. They started protests across Europe last year and intensified by the first week of February. However, national governments have taken steps to meet farmers' demands, with Berlin abandoning its plan to cut diesel subsidies and Paris scrapping a diesel tax increment. 

Second, cheap imports from Ukraine. In June 2022, the EU waived taxes, quotas, and trade defence measures on Ukrainian food imports following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This step resulted in the Polish markets being flooded with imported grains and other food products from Ukraine, which created competition between local producers. The Polish farmers called it "unfair competition" as their income decreased by nearly ten per cent. The farmers are concerned about the future of the agricultural sector in Poland and their livelihood. The ongoing farmers' protest across Poland has pressurized the government. Meanwhile, the government banned the import of several products in 2023 and is finding new ways to protect the interests of farmers. 

Third, the EU's Green Deal. The farmers are against the EU Green Deal, which aims to make the EU's food and agriculture systems sustainable. The policies include reduced use of fertilizers and pesticides, focus on organic farming, and rewilding lands to increase biodiversity. These regulations increased farming costs, adversely affecting the farmers who needed to receive appropriate prices for their products. Farmers claim it is impossible to compete with importing countries outside the EU, including Ukraine, as they are not bound to follow the EU's Green Deal regulations. 

Fourth, extreme weather conditions. Climate change has severely affected European farmers. They are suffering from increasing heat, drought, and flooding. The production of the main crops, including olive, wheat, rice, and fruits, has reduced due to worsened weather conditions. The first month of 2024 has been recorded as the world's hottest January, which destroyed winter crops.

In perspective
With growing discontent among farmers across the EU, Brussels withdrew from several rules of the EU's Green Deal. It includes reducing the use of pesticides by 50 per cent by 2030, delaying the target to leave some lands to improve biodiversity, and scrapping a goal to cut farming emissions from its 2040 climate roadmap. The EU will conduct an online survey to learn about the farmers' concerns during the first week of March. The timely response from the EU regarding farmers' interests may slow the protests. It would firm their faith in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). However, the commitment of the EU to stand with Ukraine would likely remain the same.    

As the Polish farmers have blocked nearly all borders with Ukraine, which disrupted the supply of Ukrainian grain to the EU countries, the Ukrainian government delegation visited the border to discuss the protests and a solution as the blockade hit both countries' trade and economy. Although Poland has supported Ukraine in the war and helped socially, economically and militarily, the farmers' protest has created a dilemma for the Polish government regarding its support to Ukraine. 

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