Farmers protest about EU agriculture subsidies in Prague

Photo: CTK

It wasn’t so much crying as sloganeering over spilt milk in Prague on Thursday, as thousands of farmers gathered to protest about the way the EU distributes farming subsidies. Farmers came from as far away as Lithuania to splatter milk and cereal over the pavements of Prague, angered by the low prices these goods fetched, and the way the European Union financed their production. The Czech agricultural minister responded, however, that there was nothing he could do.

Jan Veleba,  photo: CTK
When EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel came to Prague on Thursday, so too did thousands of angry farmers from around the European Union. Over 8,000 people, some even with their own cattle, gathered on Prague’s Wenceslas Square to protest about the way the EU’s farming subsidies were divvied up. The protest was organized by the Czech Agrarian Chamber. Before the demonstration, its head Jan Veleba explained why:

Photo: CTK
“When we look at the subsidies we are getting from Brussels, from the EU’s Rural Development Fund - then we see that Czech farmers are receiving, per hectare, 40% percent less than their German or Austrian colleagues. And the difference between what old and new EU states receive is so big that we can’t compete.”

But on Thursday, colleagues from Austria and Germany did show up to protest in solidarity with the Czechs. As did Slovak and Hungarian farmers, also unhappy with the piece of the pie that Brussels was giving them. Czech Agriculture Minister Petr Gandalovič addressed those assembled, saying that nothing could be done until the EU renegotiated its agriculture policy in 2013:

“The conditions according to which the Czech Republic entered into the European Union were negotiated in 2002-2003, and they were approved in this country by a referendum. So no amount of demonstration or protest will be able to change them now.”

Mr Gandalovič echoed the views of Eurocommissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel, who pledged her support to the farmers, but said that an overhaul of the system was still four years off.

Ahead of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency, Agriculture Minister Petr Gandalovič called reform of the bloc’s agricultural policy one of his top priorities. But on Thursday he insisted that he would not make a move to speed that process up. Until something changes, however, Czech farmers have warned that Prague will play host to a further wave of such protests.