Farmers in Italy, Spain and Poland protest over European Union policies and competition

The 27-nation EU’s policies on the environment and other matters are a financial burden and make their products more expensive than non-EU imports, farmers complain

Farmers with their tractors attend a protest in Pamplona, northern Spain, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024.
Farmers with their tractors attend a protest in Pamplona, northern Spain, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024.Alvaro Barrientos (AP)

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

Similar protests have taken place across the bloc in recent weeks. Farmers complain that the 27-nation EU’s policies on the environment and other matters are a financial burden and make their products more expensive than non-EU imports.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has made some concessions over the last few weeks, including shelving plans to halve the use of pesticides and other dangerous substances. Nonetheless, the protests have spread.

In Poland, where imports of cheap grain, milk and other produce from Ukraine have caused particular anger, farmers drove tractors across the country to slow down traffic and block major roads, some displaying signs that read “EU Policy is Ruining Polish Farmers.”

Access roads to border crossings with Ukraine in Hrebenne and Dorohusk, in the east, were blocked by tractors, with only a trickle of traffic being let through.

In the western city of Poznan, the police estimated that some 1,400 tractors entered the streets and reached the office of the regional governor. Protesters lit flares there and placed a coffin, symbolizing the death of Polish agriculture, as well as a manure-filled wheelbarrow with a EU flag stuck in it. There was no violence reported.

Agriculture Minister Czesław Siekierski said he understood the grievances and he would talk to the farmers, who said they were also protesting on behalf of Polish consumers.

Deputy Prime Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz called on the EU commissioner for agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, Poland’s former agriculture minister, to resign. There was no immediate reaction from Wojciechowski.

The organizers, the Solidarity Union of Individual Farmers, said EU policies triggered the protest.

“The protest is directed against the policy of the European Union, against the Green Deal and against the policy that allows for an uncontrolled inflow of farming produce from Ukraine,” Adrian Wawrzyniak, spokesman for the union, told The Associated Press.

He said storage warehouses are filled with Ukraine grain, causing prices to fall 40% in 2023. Demand for Polish sugar, milk and meat has fallen: as a result, farmers are holding off on investments.

Farmers are also concerned that the EU’s Green Deal, which calls for limits on the use of chemicals and on greenhouse gas emissions, will result in a reduction in production and income. They say that the EU’s requirement for 4% of farmland to be devoted to biodiversity and landscape protection will also have a negative effect on their output.

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

Farmers have been peacefully protesting outside of Rome and across the country for days to express their discontent

Premier Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly said that her right-wing 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.

Farmers in Spain staged similar actions in their fourth straight day of protests.

Besides EU policies, Spanish farmers maintain that a law aimed at guaranteeing that wholesale major supermarket buyers pay fair prices for their goods isn’t being enforced while consumer prices soar.

Friday’s protests centered around the northern cities of Oviedo, Pamplona and Zaragoza, with tractors clogging several city streets and commuter roads. In many places, farmers kept their protests going overnight.

A group not affiliated with Spain’s three main farming organizations has called for farmers to move on Madrid at midnight for a Saturday protest near the headquarters of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist party.

The demonstrations are expected to continue over the coming weeks with a major protest being organized in the capital for Feb. 21.

Several Spanish media reports have linked many of the protests to conservative and hard-right groups.

Police said that 20 people have been arrested during this week’s demonstrations.

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