Polish Farmers Declare War Over EU Membership

Thousands of smallholders claim they are being pushed to the wall in the Warsaw government's rush to negotiate with Brussels on entry

The European Commission: special report

Tony Paterson in Augustow, north-east Poland

"The Guardian" Tuesday April 18, 2000

Poland's politicians may be embracing early membership of the European Union but its farmers are furious about the move, which could wipe out their livelihoods.This week, as the European commission finalises its draft plan for the inclusion of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia and Cyprus in the union, many of the fields around Augustow remain a wasteland.

"Polish agriculture is already ruined," said one farmer, Stanislaw Bojkowski, 67, who tills 50 acres near Augustow.

"Farming was worthwhile under communism, but Warsaw's European Union madness is driving us out of business."

He is not alone. According to estimates from the Polish Peasants' party, only 600,000 of the country's 2m farms will survive the process of joining the EU.

Yet Warsaw's liberal-conservative coalition government is adamant that Poland must join as soon as possible.

Mr Bojkowski is cultivating only half of his land this year - he cannot afford the fertilisers needed for the rest.

"The money I get for the wheat and potatoes I manage to produce hardly makes it worthwhile. The bulk of my income these days derives from my old-age pension," he said.

Two miles away, Mieczyslaw Suchocki, 43, has tried to offset his farming losses by taking a share in a grocery store.

In the 1980s his 74-acre farm, producing potatoes, wheat and tobacco, was subsidised by the state. A single tobacco crop earned Mr Suchocki enough to buy a car.

Now the terms of growing are set by the multinational British American Tobacco company. "Starting next year, BAT is only buying tobacco from farmers who plant and dry it with the special drying equipment we can buy from them.

"I would need a $10,000 loan to purchase the equipment and I simply can't afford it. Producing tobacco on a small scale is out," he said.

The collapse of small-scale farming is a dilemma faced by all the EU candidate countries but it is acute in Poland, where some 26% of the working population is in agriculture.

Roman Jagielinski of the Polish Peasants' party argues that the state must make social security provision for farmers forced out of business. He wants the rest to receive subsidies from Brussels.

But Brussels has so far turned a deaf ear. The common agricultural policy subsidy budget, which amounts to more than £25bn a year in direct aid to EU farmers, has been fixed until 2006.

It contains no provision for EU candidate countries, although Poland is still aiming for a 2003 entry date.

The anger of Polish farmers boiled over last year, when the militant agricultural workers' union Samoobrona (Self- Defence) staged countrywide protests against the flood of cheap EU imports.

This persuaded Warsaw to temporarily ban grain imports and raise the amounts paid for home-grown pork.

But the moves were not enough to satisfy Samoobrona's leader, Andrej Lepper, who will run as a candidate in the presidential election this autumn.

"Poland is not being treated as a partner by the EU. We are simply being used as a dumping ground for their surplus products," he said.

Two-thirds of large farm owners recently declared their readiness to take part in further militant protests.

The Guardian 18.04.00

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