EU wants Ukrainian grain to “destabilise” Poland ahead of elections, says minister

The agriculture minister has accused the European Union of wanting to use Ukrainian grain imports to “destabilise” Poland ahead of October’s parliamentary elections.

Robert Telus says that Brussels’ reluctance to extend a ban on such imports “is a purely political decision…There are no substantive arguments, nor has anyone presented them to us. Politically, there are elections on 15 October and it’s about destabilising…The EU is trying to use us as part of a partisan struggle”.

“These are very important elections for Poland, but also for Europe, because the narrative in Europe is changing completely: right-wing narratives are starting to win and this leftist policy of the EU is starting to lose,” said the minister, who hails from the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Bruksela chce wpłynąć na wybory zbożem z Ukrainy? Telus nie ma wątpliwości, że decyzja jest czysto polityczna. Więcej na #NiezaleznaPL

— Niezalezna.PL (@niezaleznapl) August 22, 2023

Asked by broadcaster TV Republika if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – who has called for the ban to be lifted – is also seeking to change the Polish government, the minister responded that it is “hard to say”.

“But we will not give in and will say clearly and firmly we will not allow someone [from outside] to try to rule in Poland,” added Telus. “For us, the most important thing is our interests, the interest of Poles, the interests of Polish agriculture.”

In May, Poland introduced a unilateral ban on Ukrainian grain import and transit following protests by Polish farmers, who said that agricultural produce from Ukraine was driving down prices on the market.

Soon after, a deal was reached with the European Commission to ban the import of Ukrainian grain to the five eastern member states but with transit through them allowed to continue.

Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania have called on the EU to extend their ban on imports of Ukrainian grain

“We will not open this border. If the European Commission does not extend the ban, we’ll do it ourselves,” says Poland’s prime minister

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 19, 2023

That agreement is due to expire on 15 September, and those five countries last month called for it to be extended. However, Ukraine has pushed for the ban to be lifted and criticised Poland’s “unfriendly and populist” position.

In his interview with TV Republika, Telus reiterated Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s declaration that, if the EU refuses to extend the ban, Poland would do so unilaterally, despite Brussels having exclusive competence over trade policy.

“After 15 September, certainly, grain [from Ukraine] will not come to Poland and no one – neither from the west nor the east – will decide for us in this matter,” said the agriculture minister.

Ukraine has accused Warsaw of “unfriendly and populist” actions after it called on the EU to extend the ban on Ukrainian grain imports

But Poland says Kyiv has misunderstood its intention, which is to continue transit of grain while keeping the import ban

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 21, 2023

Telus emphasised, however, that this does not mean Poland does not want to help Ukraine. He noted that Warsaw has facilitated the transit of Ukrainian grain, with the amount passing through Polish territory rising from 144,000 tonnes in March to 260,000 tonnes in June.

Poland would be willing to further develop infrastructure for grain transit, said Telus. “But the EU doesn’t want this, because it knows that we have elections”.

The ruling PiS party is standing for an unprecedented third term in office at October’s elections. It regularly has sought to portray its main challenger, the centrist Civic Platform (PO), as representing foreign interests – especially those of Germany and the EU – rather than Poland’s.

Germany and France are opposed to extending the ban on importing Ukrainian grain, as Poland has demanded

„We’re ready to help Poland financially but it’s unacceptable to throw electoral problems on Ukraine’s shoulders,” says Germany’s agriculture minister

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 26, 2023

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Main image credit: MRiRW (under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL)

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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