Czech, Slovak farmers join neighbours in blocking borders in protest


  • World
  • Thursday, 22 Feb 2024

Farmers gather during a protest against the European Union's agricultural policies, grievances shared by farmers across Europe, at the Czech-Slovak border near Holic, Slovakia, February 22, 2024. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa

HOLIC, Slovakia (Reuters) -Farmers from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and elsewhere staged protests along Czech borders on Thursday, blocking some crossings as they demanded less bureaucracy and changes to European Union policies.

Farmers across Europe have been stepping up protests this year, including in Poland, France, Germany, Spain and Italy, complaining of low prices and high costs, cheap imports and constraints from the EU's Green Deal climate change initiative.

Farmers blocked the Hodonin-Holic crossing on the southern Czech border with Slovakia for more than an hour as hundreds of tractors lined the highway.

Protesters, including some from Hungary who had travelled by bus, waved national flags and held signs saying "Stop bureaucracy" and "Stop Ukrainian grain".

Vladimir Chovan, a 60-year-old Slovak farmer, said the sector faced "a hundred million problems" harming its competitiveness.

"The biggest problem is bureaucracy," he told Reuters.

Czech and Polish farmers also partially blocked a crossing in the northeast corner of the Czech Republic, where dozens of tractors were parked along the road, Czech news agency CTK reported.

A crossing into Reitzenhain, Germany along the northwestern part of the Czech border was briefly blocked, according to CTK.

The Czech Agrarian Chamber said 3,000 tractors were taking part in protests around the Czech Republic. It said farmers from Hungary, Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia had joined Thursday's protests alongside their Czech and Slovak colleagues.

'ECONOMIC VIABILITY'

"The fact that today farmers are protesting throughout the European Union is clear evidence that it is essential to address the redefinition of the terms of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)," the Chamber said in a joint statement with other countries' main farmer organisations.

"The primary task of agriculture must remain to ensure food security, producing quality and safe food, while maintaining the economic viability of farmers."

In Bratislava, farmers led a two-kilometre (1.2 mile) procession of tractors through the Slovak capital.

Ukraine has urged the European Commission to take robust action after Polish farmers blockaded the country's border with Poland on Tuesday.

Central Europe's farmers are angry over what they call unfair competition from abroad, particularly Ukraine, after an EU decision in 2022 to waive duties on Ukrainian food imports.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said on Thursday Slovakia would maintain a ban on selected farm products from Ukraine as the EU takes steps towards extending market access by another year.

Farmers have said markets are facing distortions and low prices coming from surpluses amid cheap imports. They also are unhappy with growing paperwork.

"We are not protesting against the European Union, we are protesting against unfair decisions of the European Commission," Andrej Gajdos, a vice-chairman of the Slovak Agriculture and Food Chamber (SPPK), told protesters at the Czech-Slovak border.

"We are farmers, we want to work in the field... We don't want to fill out paperwork and sit at the computer."

(Reporting by Radovan Stoklasa and Jason Hovet; Editing by Alex Richardson and Gareth Jones)

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