Farmers' protest to bring over 100 tractors to Toompea ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Tractors, farmers  and supporters from a 2015 demonstration on Toompea.
Tractors, farmers and supporters from a 2015 demonstration on Toompea. Source: (Martin Dremljuga/ERR)

A farmers' demonstration promises to bring over 100 tractors to Toompea, seat of the Riigikogu, next week, ahead of the final reading of the state budget bill which they say has reneged on promised domestic support, and also the European Union's own budgetary strategy summit.

The protestors are opposing what they say is a broken promise on agricultural support in the 2020 state budget bill, as well as continuing inequalities under the EU's new budgetary period as it relates to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

"Farmers are disappointed first and foremost in the government parties for their perfidy in backing down on the promise to compensate farmers for our agricultural support being smaller than the EU average. To draw attention to the reneging, we will be bringing at least 101 tractors to Toompea on Dec. 10," board chair of the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce (EPKK) Roomet Sõrmus said, BNS reports.

Sõrmus noted that the Estonian agricultural sector has to compete with farmers in other EU member states on very unequal terms. Direct support in 2020 will be a third lower than the EU average, Sõrmus said, which contributes to holding back the development of Estonia's agricultural and food production.

Given stricter environmental requirements, it also delivers a blow to the future of the agricultural sector and jobs in rural areas, Sõrmus added.

"Whereas at the time of the elections in spring, a promise was made to pay Estonian farmers €15.3 million in compensation from the state budget in 2020, by the end of November that promise had shrunk to €5 million," Sormus said.

€15.3 million was the maximum in domestic subsidies permitted by the EU, according to BNS. Daily Postimees said on Wednesday (link in Estonian) that the Riigikogu's finance committee had on the previous day added an extra €5 million to the original, albeit reduced, sum, bringing the total to €10.3 million.

EPKK leaders had met with Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre), Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE), then-Minister of Agriculture Mart Järvik (EKRE) and the Riigikogu party groups of all five represented parties in October.

"While the chamber's actions have made things move on a bit, and a certain positive change can be expected from the third reading of the budget, without transitional support to the full amount, politicians' promises to ensure fair competition terms within the EU for our farmers will be nothing but empty, to put it mildly," Sõrmus continued. 

Domestic support ends in 2020

Under EU regulations, domestic support can be paid to farmers in Estonia in 2020, according to BNS, but not beyond that.

Sõrmus said that while support for Estonian farmers is lowest in the EU, in accordance with the European Union's long-term budget plan for 2021-2027, the country still faces a decline in support in the first year of the new period. This would mean agricultural subsidies would stand at 76 percent of the EU average by 2027. 

Sõrmus claimed survival in such uneven competition conditions for that length of time was impossible, especially requirements applicable to production and machinery, fuel, fertilizer etc. prices remain similar to those in the other members states. 

"In addition to all this, Estonia is faced with a big cut in rural policy funds, which will leave Estonian farmers in very unequal competition for a long time to come. The only way to ensure a more equal competition situation is through paying out domestic support to the promised amount, and powerful steps by the government at the EU budget talks in order for agricultural subsidies earmarked for Estonia to converge with the EU average much faster," Sõrmus said.

Protest on Dec. 10

The protest on Toompea takes place on Tuesday, Dec. 10, a day before the 101-seat Riigikogu is scheduled to start the third and final reading of the state budget bill.

The long-term budget of the EU for 2021-2027 is to be discussed by EU leaders at their summit on Dec. 12 and 13.

Farmers from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have organized joint demonstrations in Brussels in the past, in 2013 and 2018; a February 2013 meeting agree minimum direct payments of €196 per hectare and, while the EU average is €260 per hectare, the figure is estimated at €170 per hectare for Estonia in 2020, according to daily Postimees reports.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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