A bitter row is playing out in Europe, said Leonie Kijewski on Politico (Brussels). Not, this time, over migrants or budget contributions – but over Ukrainian grain. When Russia first invaded Ukraine and blocked many of its exports, Brussels cut quotas and tariffs, and opened “solidarity lanes” to ensure that the country’s grain, so vital to its economy, could still reach the African and Asian markets where it was badly needed to avert a food crisis. But bottlenecks at EU ports have led to much of that grain remaining inside the bloc, where it has undercut local prices. That was tolerated for a while by eastern European countries; but this month, after weeks of protests from out-of-pocket farmers, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia slapped import bans on Ukrainian farm produce – putting themselves on a “collision course with Brussels”.
The anger among farmers is understandable, said Kristin Joachim in Tagesschau (Berlin). Just look at the “catastrophe” afflicting the agricultural sector in Poland, where the EU’s intervention has led to an oversupply of grain, contributing to a fall in the price of wheat from €390 to €190 per tonne in the past few months. To make matters worse, Polish dealers are buying cheaper grain from Ukraine and selling it as Polish produce at a higher price – although it often does not comply with EU standards. Even so, there is no excuse for the way Poland has banned all Ukrainian food imports, said Joanna Solska in Polityka (Warsaw). Warsaw’s nationalist government could have solved farmers’ problems by increasing export capacity at Poland’s ports. Instead, it loaded blame on to Brussels – contravening EU law in the process.
Yet it’s Brussels which now looks set to back down, said Patricia Cohen in The New York Times. The EU is reportedly ready to stop imports of Ukrainian grain to five affected countries, unless it is to be re-exported, and it will even pay ��100m to compensate affected farmers. This row has exposed alarming cracks in support for Ukraine among countries in the EU’s eastern bloc, said Gloria Rodríguez-Pina in El País (Madrid). Poland, in particular, has until now been “at the forefront of military, logistical and humanitarian aid to Kyiv”. Yet the sympathy of the Polish public seems to be on the wane, and the governing party is now indicating that it may reduce its support in an effort to rescue its lagging poll ratings ahead of elections later this year. Backing for Kyiv in eastern European countries isn’t about to dry up altogether; but as this saga shows, that support “has limits”.
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