As Prime Ministers and Heads of State of EU countries met in Brussels to discuss the EU budget - the Multiannual Financial Framework - more than 50 farmers travelled all the way from Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia to protest outside. The protest was also joined by Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda and the Lithuanian MEPs Juozas Olekas and Bronis Rope.
The farmers are reminding the EU leaders of promises they made to increase the subsidies to farmers in Central and Eastern Europe where some still receive nearly half of average in the EU. The promises were made in 2002, but EU leaders have repeatedly failed to follow through on their commitment to a fairer distribution. These farmers are required to produce the same food, to the same standards, but with a far lower subsidy.
“European leaders are today debating how to allocate a budget of billions of euro and we are struggling to make ends meet each month and to continue farming. All we're asking is for them to honour a promise made to us years ago and bring our payments up to that of the European average," said Arūnas Svitojus, President of the Chamber of Agriculture of Lithuania.
The protest, under the initiative of the Chamber of Agriculture of Lithuania, follows an open letter issued last Thursday by a coalition of nine agricultural associations from the Baltic States addressed to EU political leaders calling for greater payments to Baltic farmers.
Speaking to the assembled protesters outside the meeting of EU leaders, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda expressed his solidarity with the farmers gathered. “It is very good that farmers from all across Central and Eastern Europe came to Brussels to fight for equality. I will do my best to represent the farmers’ interests at the European Council while negotiating the EU budget,” he pledged.
The farmers’ protest is particularly timely, as it comes one day after the EU launched its flagship initiative, the European Green Deal, a plan to make Europe a climate neutral continent. In recent years and recent reforms of the CAP, farmers have been asked to do more and more to protect the environment and climate but they need support to do more. In launching the European Green Deal, European Commission Executive Vice President, Frans Timmermans said that it is the EU’s “responsibility is to make sure that this transition is a just transition, and that nobody is left behind as we deliver the European Green Deal.” The farmers protesting today agree and ask EU leaders to ensure that they are not left behind.
"I think what EU leaders don't realise is that I receive nearly half of the what the average EU farmer receives in payments from the Common Agricultural Policy. How can they claim to act in any solidarity if they continue to break their promise to support all farmers equally? All we want is to be sure that we are not left behind", says Lina Meilute-Datkuniene, a farmer from Lithuania that travelled to Brussels for the protest.
The farmers demand fair conditions for farmers across the EU Member States, equal direct payments and a strong budget for the CAP in 2021-2027. Only in this way, the EU can meet its green policy goals and produce healthier food.