Calls for Polish EU agriculture commissioner to step down amid farmers protests

Several key Polish and European politicians have called on Poland’s EU agriculture commissioner to resign from his position after a wave of farmers’ protests launched across Europe against EU climate policies.

The commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, has rejected calls for his resignation, saying that he “does not see any negligence” on his part.

Among Polish farmers, meanwhile, sentiments are mixed. Some, similarly to politicians, want Wojciechowski’s immediate resignation, while others appreciate his efforts to limit imports of agricultural products from Ukraine.

Polish farmers today began blocking roads around the country, including in major cities, and border crossings with Ukraine in protest against EU climate policies and Ukrainian agricultural imports.

Their general strike is due to last 30 days

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) February 9, 2024

In Poland, farmers began protesting on Friday, demanding that agriculture-related provisions of the EU’s “Green Deal”, a set of policy initiatives aimed at achieving climate neutrality by 2050, be scrapped. Polish farmers also want to limit imports of agricultural products from Ukraine, which is seen by them as a threat to the domestic market.

The protest in Poland followed similar events across Europe, including Germany, Belgium and Spain, which, in some cases, turned violent.

These protests led to increasing calls for the agriculture commissioner to resign, including from the head of the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber.

“Not only has the agriculture commissioner failed to steer the Commission towards a more respectful and cooperative approach to farmers, he has also failed to put food security and food production at the heart of the Commission’s work,” Weber said in an interview with Polish news portal Onet, adding that Wojciechowski was also absent at the peak of the protests and avoided debate.

Manfred Weber dla Onetu: wzywam Janusza Wojciechowskiego do rezygnacji

— Onet Wiadomości (@OnetWiadomosci) February 12, 2024

Meanwhile, in Poland, similar calls came both from Poland’s government and the opposition.

“There is a man in Europe who united all European and Polish farmers against the reform he proposed. This is Janusz Wojciechowski. He should resign!” said Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, the leader of the agrarian Polish People’s Party (PSL) and Poland’s defence minister, in the Polish parliament on Friday, as quoted by the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

Kosiniak-Kamysz pointed out that “there have never been such protests in Europe,” as under Wojciechowski, who was nominated by former ruling Law and Justice (PiS), which has been in opposition since December.

However, calls for Wojciechowski to resign from his post came from within PiS itself, too. The party chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, told reporters on Friday that Wojciechowski “should conclude his mission” and that he would urge him to do so by telephone, reported the Wirtualna Polska news service.

Kaczyński: komisarz Wojciechowski powinien zakończyć swoją misję

— Wirtualna Polska (@wirtualnapolska) February 9, 2024

Responding to calls for his resignation from Kaczyński, Wojciechowski said that he “does not see the slightest grounds for [it]”.

“There is no negligence on my part,” he said in an interview with broadcaster RMF FM, admitting that it will now be more difficult for him to fight in the European Commission for favourable solutions for Polish farmers when his position is undermined in Poland.

Earlier on social media, he published an open letter to Polish farmers in which he enumerated the measures he has taken in their favour, such as restricting imports of sugar, poultry meat and eggs from Ukraine, and gave a list of things he is still seeking from the EU.

List otwarty do Rolników, uczestników protestów rolniczych w Polsce👇

— Janusz Wojciechowski (@jwojc) February 8, 2024

Deputy agriculture minister and former leader of the farmers’ protests, Michał Kołodziejczak, however, disagrees with Wojciechowski’s assessment of his achievements but believes the commissioner should stay in post “to repair the damage done”.

“EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has done a lot of wrongs. Let him correct them today,” Kołodziejczak said in an interview with TVN24 yesterday.

Meanwhile, Polish farmers protesting at the border with Ukraine criticised Wojciechowski for “supposedly defending them” but agreeing to “uncontrolled import of Ukrainian grain,” Gazeta Wyborcza daily reported.

Rolnicy protestują także w Hrubieszowie. Głównym działem gospodarki naszego powiatu jest rolnictwo, funkcjonuje tu 12 tyś gospodarstw rolnych.
👉 użytki rolne stanowią 79,49% ogólnej powierzchni.
Po prostu wykażmy się zrozumieniem.#protestrolnikow#hrubieszów #lubelskie

— Marta Majewska (@MartaMajewska82) February 10, 2024

The tractors blocking the road leading up to a rail border crossing in Hrubieszów had banners reading “Commissioner Wojciechowski, you are killing Polish agriculture,” reported the newspaper.

“Either us or EU Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski. We demand his dismissal as soon as possible. End of story,” said one of the protest leaders, Wiesław Gryn.

Some farmers, however, praised Wojciechowski’s efforts to curtail Ukrainian food imports.

“Wojciechowski has long put a lot of effort to make other EU decision-makers aware of the dangers resulting from excessive food imports from Ukraine,”  Jerzy Wierzbicki of the Polish Union of Beef Cattle Breeders and Farmers told Euractiv.

Polish Farmers defend Wojciechowski against Warsaw’s calls for resignation

— Euractiv Agri & Food (@eaAgriFood) February 12, 2024

Main image credit: Jakub Orzechowski / Agencja

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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