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Farmers in Italy, Spain and Poland protest over European Union policies and competition

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MADRID (AP) — Farmers in Italy, Spain and Poland demonstrated Friday as part of ongoing protests against European Union farming policies and to demand measures to combat production cost hikes, reduced profits and unfair competition from non-EU countries.

Similar protests have taken place across the bloc in recent weeks. Farmers complain that the 27-nation EU’s policies on the environment and other matters are a financial burden and make their products more expensive than non-EU imports.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has made some concessions over the last few weeks, including shelving plans to halve the use of pesticides and other dangerous substances. Nonetheless, the protests have spread.

In Poland, where imports of cheap grain, milk and other produce from Ukraine have caused particular anger, farmers drove tractors across the country to slow down traffic and block major roads, some displaying signs that read “EU Policy is Ruining Polish Farmers.”

Access roads to border crossings with Ukraine in Hrebenne and Dorohusk, in the east, were temporarily blocked.

In the western city of Poznan, the police estimated that some 1,400 tractors entered the streets and reached the office of the regional governor. Protesters lit flares there and placed a coffin, symbolizing the death of Polish agriculture, as well as a manure-filled wheelbarrow with a EU flag stuck in it. There was no violence reported.

Deputy Prime Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz as well as the opposition leader called on the EU commissioner for agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, Poland’s former agriculture minister, to resign. Wojciechowski reacted by saying he “will not act under pressure.”

The organizers, the Solidarity Union of Individual Farmers, said EU policies triggered the protest.

They said storage warehouses were filled with Ukraine grain, causing prices to fall 40% in 2023. Demand for Polish sugar, milk and meat has fallen: as a result, farmers are holding off on investments.

Farmers are also concerned that the EU’s Green Deal, which calls for limits on the use of chemicals and on greenhouse gas emissions, will result in a reduction in production and income.

In Italy, a small convoy of tractors moved across Rome’s historical center to the Colosseum on Friday morning, escorted by police patrols.

Farmers have been peacefully protesting outside of Rome and across the country for days to express their discontent.

Italy’s Premier Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly said that her right-wing government has already addressed some of the farmers’ key requests, but many of them feel neglected.

Meloni stressed that her government has already earmarked an extra 3 billion euros from the Italian chunk of EU’s post-pandemic recovery funds, raising total resources dedicated to the agricultural sector to 8 billion euros.

On Friday afternoon, at a roundtable with her ministers and some delegates of the main agricultural associations — not including representatives of the protests — the Italian premier also agreed to extend an income tax exemption for farmers in force since 2017, but only for low-income earners.

Many Italian farmers, however, complain they don’t feel represented by large sector associations, which they say are removed from their daily struggles.

Later on Friday, a few protest representatives met separately with Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, but that move didn’t stop a new convoy of hundreds of tractors from starting a procession on Rome’s main motorway ring road.

Farmers in Spain staged similar actions in their fourth straight day of protests.

Besides EU policies, Spanish farmers maintain that a law aimed at guaranteeing that wholesale major supermarket buyers pay fair prices for their goods isn’t being enforced while consumer prices soar.

Friday’s protests centered around the northern cities of Oviedo, Pamplona and Zaragoza, with tractors clogging several city streets and commuter roads. In many places, farmers kept their protests going overnight.

A group not affiliated with Spain’s three main farming organizations has called for farmers to move on Madrid at midnight for a Saturday protest near the headquarters of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist party.

The demonstrations are expected to continue over the coming weeks with a major protest being organized in the capital for Feb. 21.

Several Spanish media reports have linked many of the protests to conservative and hard-right groups.

Police said that 20 people have been arrested during this week’s demonstrations.

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Scislowska reported from Warsaw, Poland, and Giada Zampano from Rome.

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