Farmer protests sweep across Eastern Europe
Anger over cheap Ukrainian imports is spilling onto the streets
Across Europe’s East in recent weeks, farmers have been protesting over Ukrainian grain flooding local markets and undercutting prices. Thousands of farmers in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland formed long convoys of tractors, blocking border crossings with farm vehicles that has resulted in the resignation of at least one leading minister.
Poland, Romania and Hungary, all of which border Ukraine and are members of the EU, have struggled with a glut of grain and other Ukrainian agricultural products since last year, when tariffs on goods from Ukraine were lifted. Logistical difficulties in moving the Ukrainian grain out of central European states has pushed local prices down, threatening the livelihoods of farmers in the region. Ukrainian farmers, for their part, say the protests are political.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
But according to the National Association of Bulgarian Grain Producers, 40% of last year’s grain and sunflower harvest remains unsold. “Bulgaria is in solidarity with Ukraine, but a local glut is being created on the agricultural market, because instead of export corridors our countries are becoming warehouses,” Bulgaria’s agriculture minister Yavor Gechev said. Meanwhile, Romanian farmers protesting in Bucharest on Friday held signs reading: “Do not punish our solidarity,” while others urged European Union officials to “take responsibility, take action, take care.”
The EU recently approved €56.3m in compensation for Bulgarian, Polish and Romanian farmers, but anger remains. Earlier this month, Poland’s agriculture minister, Henryk Kowalczyk, was called Judas and hit with eggs during a panel discussion with the EU agriculture commissioner. Kowalczyk then resigned over the European Commission’s decision to extend duty-free imports for Ukrainian grain until June 2024.
Such is the sensitivity of the issue in Poland that Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Warsaw was met with a smattering of farmer protests in the area. In response, a temporary agreement to halt Ukrainian grain deliveries to Poland was reached between the two countries shortly after. Poland’s new agriculture minister has since vowed to introduce detailed quality controls on the massive inflow of grain from Ukraine transiting through the country, and to make sure none of it spills into the Polish market.
With elections in Poland due later this year, one of Ukraine’s biggest backers may feel pressured into taking a back seat. The electoral base of the governing Law and Justice Party is grounded in support from rural voters, who are likely to be sympathetic to the demands of Poland’s farmers. “We will not leave farmers alone,” the party’s spokesman promised, saying that “in coming days and weeks, further important decisions will be made.”
This is a very interesting story for us Western Europeans… some good Unherd journalism!
Presumably this may well all have some impact on the Realpolitik/warfare in the region..
Yeah, Unherd mainly provides commentary on news reported by others, but sometimes it gets ahead of the pack by reporting stories underreported (suppressed?) by main stream media outlets.
We need outlets to pick up the things swept under the carpet from our mainstream media. They have been hiding too much from the general public for far too long.
Back in the day a newspaper like the NYTimes would have done a long-winded feature about the fabulously productive agriculture of the Middle and Eastern European/Black Sea nations and the brokers and shippers who manage to move it all along. That’s how people like me educated ourselves.
But I wonder if this isn’t a case of the degradation of the news business; not a matter of suppression. Long-winded features cost money, most of the editors are robots now and the reporters can’t be bothered to look up from their Twitter anyway.
For me, who works and lives in Poland on and off for 6 months a year since 2007, it feels almost unreal how much crap they get to take. Historically speaking, the country is a wonder and their glory days would have come even earlier but now they have yet another burden to bear. Their aid to Ukraine is not comparable to any country other than the United States (only financial and military equipment). I admire the country. Finally, the title should be “Central and Eastern Europe”. Poland has indeed belonged, against its will, to the Eastern Bloc, but is and has never been Eastern Europe. Let’s at least respect this.
A year ago we were worrying about bread riots breaking out in Egypt and similar countries because they wouldn’t be able get Ukrainian grain.
Yet at the same time increased prices of grains etc is given as a major cause of UK food inflation ???
That’s because ours comes from our farmers, I’m sure the UK uses mostly uk flour, our fertiliser and fuel prices went up, so that has to be passed on to you. The commodity markets and supply chains are a mess and have been since covid. Ukraine made it worse. It’s not as simple as there’s a load of grain in Europe why is ours more expensive.
Point is it’s not getting shipped out to the countries it normally goes to, instead it’s all going into Europe, now there’s too much in Europe.
These problems are actually not in conflict with one another, but are instead directly tied together. The problem is one of transportation. Ordinarily, much of Ukraine’s agricultural exports would go all over the globe through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. One of which, Mariupol, is now under occupation. Their largest port, Odesa, sustained significant damage early in the war which I am guessing hasn’t been repaired and was subject to blockade for a significant period. Further, some of that grain probably passed through Crimea to another important port, Sevastopol, and presumably that is cut off as well. So, all that grain is now taking overland routes through the countries mentioned, flooding the market with cheap grain. That grain could be further transported of course, but overland transport is, as a rule, far more expensive than ocean shipping, and trade routes don’t shift that drastically overnight, as the business relationships and transportation infrastructure to support them have to be built, and businesses are understandably reluctant to do this because at some point the war is going to end and those routes will once again be far more costly than the closer seaports.
Thank you for doing the work of connecting a few more dots! This makes sense.
This is all plausible but does not explain why the EU didn’t make arrangements to transship the grain or otherwise recognize the impact on those economies and take steps to ameliorate it.
“Experts” asleep at the wheel. It’s getting to be a habit for them.
“Logistical difficulties in moving the Ukrainian grain out of central European states has pushed local prices down, threatening the livelihoods of farmers in the region.”
Aside from the bad grammar, this doesn’t suggest the writer understands the real problem. The Russians have impeded, or at least reduced, the massive exports of Ukrainian farm products that formerly left by way of the Black Sea. So it made sense for the Ukrainian farmers to look for buyers nearby, and offer them attractive prices. The problems this creates for the farmers in neighboring countries ought to be laid at the feet of the Russian aggressors.
Fine, but these problems were obvious from the first day yet the EU chose to leave Poland, Hungary, Romania holding the bag.
And there was me thinking that the LACK of import of Ukranian grain was the cause of the rising prices over here. Mainly because that is what we were led to believe by the media…..silly me for believing them for once!
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe