European farmers, the Ukranian issue in Brussels

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Farmers-protest_RO_24

The revolt of farmers and transporters – in addition to blocking roads and highways in Germany, as we have seen (1) – continues in Romania and has been suspended in Poland with generous offers of financing. The European associations representing five agri-food chains, meanwhile, have turned to the European Commission to protest against the unfair competition from imports from Ukraine.

The common thread of the protests, which some federations and groups of farmers have the merit of carrying forward, in hindsight concerns the impact of European foreign policy on the entire civil society. But the Ukrainian question remains a taboo topic, so far removed from popular consensus. And it risks remaining so, even if the governments of five EU member states have started to react.

1) Germany, farmers in revolt

A drop of (gas)oil  broke the camel’s back in Germany. The vice-president of the Association of German Rural Youth (Bund der Deutschen Landjugen, BDL) Anne-Kathrin Meister, interviewed by DW, underlined the following:

– ‘the costs of machinery, pesticides and fertilizers have never increased at the same rate as crop yields. The current challenges and those of recent years are simply too many all at once. The German protests focused on fuel and vehicles, but they were only the last straw‘;

– ‘farmers do not oppose environmental reforms in principle, as they are the first to be negatively affected when flora and fauna are in poor condition, but they need more support because environmental measures have a price‘. (2)

The representative of rural youth says consumers should also ‘be prepared to pay for reforms‘. Yet it would be enough to apply it rigorously Unfair Trading Practices Directive (EU) 2019/633, as we have seen, to restore balance in the value chain. (1)

1.1) Germany, citizens against

Convoys of tractors from all over Germany headed to Berlin for an epochal demonstration of German farmers and hauliers on January 15, 2024, with over 30.000 participants. After 100.000 tractors blocked roads and highways across the country, in a week of demonstrations.

The population German supports the protest by a very large majority, despite the road disruptions which, among other things, coincided with the strikes of railway staff. The former locomotive of Europe has stopped and citizens can no longer stand it. (3)

Not by chance the newly formed party ‘Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht‘ – which states the urgency of resolving the conflict at the gates of the EU through diplomacy, cutting the crazy spending on arms purchases and stopping military aid to Ukraine (4) – has achieved a popularity equal to that of the parties now in power in Germany.

2) Romania, farmers in revolt

Ukrainian imports have caused a ‘price collapse’ across the entire Black Sea region, according to local farmers. Who therefore blocked the passage of trucks at the Siret checkpoint (on the border between Romania and Ukraine) with their tractors last week. (5) In the following days the protest spread to 27 provinces, as of today, until it reached Romania’s southern border with Serbia. (6)

Romanian agricultural producers therefore ask the Bucharest government:

– ‘compensation for losses caused by the severe disruption of the grain market following the importation of cheap wheat from Ukraine’ which they say ‘does not comply with EU standards and may put food safety at risk’‘. (5) Also complaining ‘the transit of Ukrainian cereals and oilseeds‘ which, as will be seen, are still exempt from import duties;

– this compensation should take the form of state aid, in the minimum amount of €60/t, on local agricultural production. The state aid framework adopted by the European Commission indeed allows Member States to grant agricultural businesses and food industries up to €280.000 and €2,5 million, respectively. (5)

3) Poland, agreement between farmers and government

Agricultural production in Poland it is growing, especially in the sugar sector thanks to the lively increase in beet crops and yields. But this very supply chain – which has always been much more profitable than the others in rotation – is experiencing a very serious problem, as Czesław Siekierski, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, acknowledged on 4 January. (7)

Again, imports from Ukraine have caused the prices of ‘Made in EU’ sugar to collapse. And it is curious to observe how imports of sugar from Kiev into the EU have literally ‘exploded’ starting from 2022. Although in wartime sugar was one of the first products to be missing, together with cereals, due to the lack of human resources (and electricity).

The minister of Agriculture Czesław Siekierski, however, managed to suspend the protests that began at the Medyka crossing (south-eastern Poland, border with Ukraine), on 6 January. By offering the group of ‘defrauded farmers’ (Podkarpackiej oszukanej wsi) part of what they asked for:

– 1 billion zlotys (€229 million) in subsidies for corn production in Poland;

– 2,5 billion zlotys (€572 million) of additional credit for subsidized loans in agriculture;

– maintaining taxes on agricultural activities at the 2023 level. (8)

– ‘Let’s give credit to @CzSiekierski and hope for quick EU action together with @jwojc and PM @donaldtusk! The first three demands concern compensation for losses incurred, but the most important thing now is to limit the inflow of goods from Ukraine!‘(Podkarpackiej oszukanej wsi, X, 6.1.24)

4) European trade associations

Six European associations of category – representing agriculture and livestock, as well as production, processing and trading of sugar, cereals and oilseeds, poultry and eggs (9) – presented to the European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski, on 10 January, ‘their strong concerns about unlimited imports from Ukraine‘. (10) Farmers in the European Union are exhausted and say ‘that it is essential to propose a European-wide solution to this problem to preserve the unity of the EU and the integrity of the European single market’.

The request of the agricultural sector and primary food processing to the European Commission, the Council and the Parliament concerns the proposal for further renewal of the Autonomous Trade Measures Regulation (EU ) No 2023/1077. (11) This regulation granted Ukraine full trade liberalization with the EU, through temporary suspension – from 4 June 2022 and then again, from 5 June 2023 until 6 June 2024 – of both import duties and quotas and trade defense measures of the domestic market with respect to imports from Ukraine.

4.1) ATM, requests from European associations

ATM Regulation – as boldly stated by Romanian and Polish farmers, more weakly by German ones – is one of the issues at stake. European farmers and associations are calling for the renewal scheduled until June 2025 to be scaled down, introducing the following measures:

– ‘ensuring that products entering the internal market comply with phytosanitary [and food safety, it is worth adding] standards, animal welfare rules and the use of antimicrobials, strengthening border controls‘;

– ‘creation of a system to ensure that the destination of all consignments of Ukrainian agricultural products is determined before their entry into the EU, and of a system of controls to ensure that ‘do not end up elsewhere, for example through the use of a deposit system’. To put a stop to speculation and commercial fraud which have already occurred, most recently with eggs in Bulgaria; (12)

– ‘introduction of import thresholds for sensitive agricultural products covered by the six associations and subject to trade liberalization, based on the annual average for the years 2021 and 2022. All products imported above this threshold should be exported outside the EU, and therefore only for transit within the EU market. The measurement of quantities should be based on the surveillance system of DG TAXUD‘. (10)

5)  Autonomous Trade Measures , standoff in Brussels

EU politician  – ironically, a US magazine – has revealed the ongoing tug-of-war in Brussels over the proposed second renewal of the ATM Regulation. (13) Where:

– Polish Janusz Wojciechowski, European Commissioner for Agriculture, supports the need to impose restrictions on Ukrainian agricultural exports to the EU. To prevent further ‘oversupply’ crisis (a euphemism);

– the Latvian Valdis Dombrovskis, European commissioner for trade, insists on maintaining full trade liberalization with Ukraine for at least another year. In line with the thoughts of Ursula von der Leyen.

Wojciechowski – in a letter seen by Politico – argued that trade liberalization would benefit Russia, helping Moscow shift Kiev’s exports from regions such as Africa and Asia to the EU, potentially causing destabilizing effects.

6) Five EU member states are calling for restrictions on wheat imports from Ukraine

The uncontrolled influx of agricultural commodities arriving from Ukraine has pushed prices downwards, especially in the closest countries. The agriculture ministers of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania have therefore requested the European Commission (Wojciechowski and Dombrovskis, see previous paragraph) to introduce import duties on Ukrainian cereals (14,15). The reasons are simple:

– the five countries produce a quantity of wheat and corn significantly higher than their needs, which is fundamental for ‘food security’ and food sovereignty in the EU;

– European agricultural businesses are unable to compete with Ukrainian ones, whose average size is extraordinarily larger;

– The ATM Regulation, by suspending quotas (import caps) and import duties, has put the agriculture of the five Eastern European countries in crisis;

– the food safety of Ukrainian foodstuffs must also be verified. Taking into account, adds the writer, both the absence of official controls and the risks of contamination by heavy metals and radioactivity.

6.1) National restrictions on the import of Ukrainian agricultural products

The same five  Member States – exasperated by the effects of the ATM Regulation on local agricultural production – had already announced bans on the import of Ukrainian foodstuffs into their territories (allowing their transit to various national markets instead), at the beginning of 2023.

The protests of farmers against the dumping of Ukrainian wheat and the distortion of local markets, supported by their respective governments, had forced the European Commission to suspend the application of the ATM on Ukrainian imports into those countries until 15 September 2023. (16)

Poland, Hungary and Slovakia then introduced national restrictions on imports of Ukrainian wheat. And they have so far declared that they intend to maintain them, (17) despite Ukraine’s complaint to the WTO and threats from Commissioner Dombrovskis.

7) Divide and conquer . Latest news and perspectives

Successful meeting with Polish ministers Czesław Siekierski and Krzysztof Hetman on EU support for Ukraine, including trade means. The Commission will continue to support the Ukrainian economy, recalling the concerns of Polish farmers related to Ukrainian imports of agri-food products‘ (Valdis Dombrovskis, X).

The vice-president of the European Commission, as well as commissioner for trade, has decided to bet everything on an agreement with Donald Tusk’s friendly government. (18) Poland, Europe’s new military and Atlanticist protagonist, will receive its share to sweeten its farmers even more (see previous paragraph 3). And by next week the renewal of the ATM will be completed, in defiance of the requests of the farmers of the 27 member countries.

Scholz, Macron and Meloni will not be outdone in inflicting further damage on populations now resigned to the misfortune ‘from bad to worse’. In Italy the ‘brother-in-law’ has even forced farmers to rely on a single ‘union’ (Coldiretti) to obtain EU aid (19,20). The history (of the dictatorship) repeats itself in the abysmal distance between those in command – with the a priori support of the elites of the intermediate bodies – and the working masses forced to suffer.

Dario Dongo

Footnotes

(1) Dario Dongo. Germany, the great farmers’ protest. Here is whyGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 11.1.24

(2) Ella Joyner. What brings European farmers to the streets? DW. 13.1.24 http://tinyurl.com/59u5tnyk

(3) Sabine Kinkartz. Why Germany has gone into protest mode. DW. 13.1.24 http://tinyurl.com/6d53nhte

(4) Sahra Wagenknecht. “The traffic light is not in an emergency, it is the emergency”. 1/15/24  http://tinyurl.com/4wht24ts

(5) Ella Joyner. What brings European farmers to the streets? D.W. _ 1/13/24  http://tinyurl.com/59u5tnyk

(6) Cristian Otopeanu, Andrei Stan. Sixth day of protests for transporters and farmers. Restricted traffic in Afumati. Ciolacu promises the rapid adoption of some measures. Libertatea.ro . 1/15/24  http://tinyurl.com/yj3hhu3a

(7) KKG. “New sugar problems.” The Minister of Agriculture says: this will have an impact on the market. Money.pl . 9/1/24  http://tinyurl.com/yd6jz32k

(8) Paula Andrés. Poland reaches deal with farmers to call off blockade of Ukraine border crossing. EU politician. 7.1.24 http://tinyurl.com/5n7mrb9f

(9) Le associazioni firmatarie sono AVEC (Association of Poultry Processors and Poultry Trade in the EU countries), CEFS (European Association of Sugar Manufacturers), CEPM (European Confederation of Maize Production), CIBE, International Confederation of European Beet Growers), COPA-COGECA (the united voice of farmers and their cooperatives in the European Union), EUWEP (European Union of Wholesale with Eggs, Egg Products, Poultry and Game)

(10) Francess Mc Donnell. EU Commissioner warned of concerns over ‘unlimited imports’ from Ukraine. Agriland. 10.1.24 http://tinyurl.com/3nb7a759

(11) Regulation (EU) 2023/1077 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 31 May 2023 on temporary trade-liberalisation measures supplementing trade concessions applicable to Ukrainian products under the Association Agreement between the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community and their Member States, of the one part, and Ukraine, of the other part http://tinyurl.com/muwr48tn

(12) Poultry Scandal: Imported Eggs Sold as Bulgarian Produce! Novinite.com. 3.1.24 http://tinyurl.com/bdcm8hcd

(13) Bartosz Brzezinski. Von der Leyen’s team split over free trade with Ukraine. European politician. 5.1.24 http://tinyurl.com/3zvk49k

(14) EU’s eastern members demand import duties on Ukraine grains. to Reuters. 15.1.24 http://tinyurl.com/4cwufjbw

(15) The Budapest government in turn awarded Hungarian farmers compensation of 5.9 billion forints (€15.8 million) for the losses suffered due to the liberalization of imports of Ukrainian agricultural products and the effects of the sanctions ‘reckless’ measures imposed by the EU, which have put farmers in neighboring EU countries in an ‘extremely difficult situation’. See ‘Ministry: Hungary corn farmers to get HUF 6 billion in EU compensation for Ukrainian grain glut’. Budapest Times . 11.1.24 http://tinyurl.com/2r38c5bd

(16) Leonie Kijewski, Bartosz Brzezinski. Eastern EU countries strike deal with Commission to clear Ukrainian grain glut. EU politician. 29.4.23 http://tinyurl.com/yc33mm5p

(17) Fico: Slovakia will maintain its ban on agricultural imports from Ukraine. SB News. 15.1.24 http://tinyurl.com/yvxkpft8

(18) Katarzyna Szymanska-Borginon. Duty-free import from Ukraine. The deputy head of the European Commission talked to Polish ministers. RFM 24 . 15/1/24 http://tinyurl.com/4c2ehyf4

(19) The ‘brother-in-law minister’ is Francesco Lollobrigida, husband of Arianna Meloni who is the prime minister’s sister. Huffington Post. 21.10.22  http://tinyurl.com/yc66xp9f

(20) Dario Dongo. AGEA and MASAF ‘Coldiretti’. The suppression of freelancers in agricultureGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 30.9.23

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.