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A summit of rural anger?

After months of protests in Europe’s cities and roads and an unexpected political foothold in the conclusions of the European Council on 1 February, farmers will be back on the agenda of the EU leaders at the summit on 21 and 22 March. 

Normally, agriculture lands on the table of EU leaders mostly during negotiations on the bloc’s budget or in the event of a widespread continental crisis, such as the milk and dairy market disruptions in 2016. 

The current skirmish, which has seen farmers and tractors protest for months, appears to be of the same magnitude—something that will also be reflected in its sizeable mention in the EU summit leaders’ statement. 

According to early draft conclusions, seen by Euractiv, EU leaders will give their blessing to initiatives already underway: Cutting red tape, strengthening the position of farmers in the food supply chain, ensuring fair competition “globally and in the internal market”, and addressing the side-effects of trade benefits to help Ukraine “in a fair and balanced way”.

At a time when politics is rediscovering the link between agriculture and geopolitics – or its importance for the “strategic autonomy of the Union”, as the leaders write – talks could run into complications if they decide to go beyond these general calls.

More trade-oriented member states, such as Germany, could point out that fair competition is nice, but there are international rules to be respected. Ukraine’s direct neighbours could insist on the negative unintended effects of excessive imports on national agricultural sectors or, more wisely, start looking at permanent trade agreements to remedy the situation.

Baltic states and Poland are likely to reiterate their call for a ban on food imports from Russia and Belarus, recently backed also by many in the European Parliament. Southern member states, which are among the biggest importers, may not be in the same mood.

“This summit risks turning into a summit of rural anger”, an EU official with knowledge of the summit preparations told Euractiv.

Anger is precisely the thing to avoid to unravel the tangled skein of economics, foreign policy, ideology, as well as local and global interests breaking down in the current agricultural crisis.

By Angelo Di Mambro | Euractiv

About İsmail Uğural

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