By the Coalition of Baltic Farmers
The European Union was founded on the principle of bringing prosperity to all its citizens and sharing income and wealth equitably. Yet a small, often overlooked community in three of the least populated and most pro-European member states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – are being denied their fair share of EU support.
Farmers from the three Baltic states are urging Donald Tusk, the European Council president, to ensure that their repeated demands for a just distribution of direct payments under the CAP are given a full and proper hearing when EU leaders discuss the proposed new 7-year budget - the MFF 2021-2027 - at their summit on 13 December.
This is an issue that has remained unresolved since the Baltic trio joined the EU in 2004. Their farmers have consistently received less in direct payments than their counterparts in other bigger and richer member states, despite a spate of promises to make good the gap. This gap arose primarily because the agricultural sector collapsed after the Baltic countries became independent in 1991. The subsequent transition period - between independence and EU membership - was a difficult one and saw the lowest levels of agricultural production in decades. The direct payments are calculated on the basis of these extremely low levels.
Baltic farmers continue to receive the lowest direct payments. This is despite the fact that their production costs are above the EU average. And these costs are rising because of the need to comply with common environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards – compounded by the effects of climate change, including this year’s drought in northern Europe, as well as other factors.
Almost six years ago, in February 2013, EU leaders pledged that by 2020 all member states should be getting at least €196 per hectare at current prices but the 60,000 farmers in Latvia, 27,000 in Estonia and 50,000 in Lithuania are getting nowhere near that level. Baltic farmers receive direct payments worth €100 per hectare on average compared with as much as €400 in the Netherlands, one of the EU’s richest member states.
These payments amount to between 54 and 60% of the EU average while production costs are far higher: 129% of the average in Estonia, 112% in Lithuania and 113% in Latvia. This is palpably unfair and should not be allowed to continue. But, without a strong political will at the summit, progress could continue at a snail’s pace indefinitely.
These fears are augmented by the current proposals for the 2021-2027 Multi-Annual Financial Framework tabled in June 2018, which see a further cut in the CAP budget to €380 billion, with overall spending on agriculture reduced from 55% of the budget in 1988 to just 30% by 2027.
Earlier this year, the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – Juri Ratas, Maris Kucinskis and Dalia Grybauskaite – offered to see the level of their funding to the EU budget raised to take into account the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU in late March next year. They envisage the proportion of GDP raised from the current 1% to 1.1 or 1.2%. This is designed, too, to meet the outstanding commitments to Baltic farmers.
The three leaders said: “Direct payments for the Baltic farms are amongst the lowest in the EU and remain considerably below the European average. This is not sustainable given that we are facing the same costs and challenges across Europe.”
Farmers from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, heartened by this political support, will carry the same message about (un)fairness to the summit on 13 December when they will protest close to the summit venue.
Baltic farmers are proud Europeans, and that is why a fair European Single Market is so important to them. It is hard to explain how they can still be expected to bear higher costs than most member states while receiving far less support.
If EU leaders wish to ensure that the Union is perceived as a body dedicated to all members getting their fair share, they could do no better than live up to their long-standing pledge to the small Baltic community of farmers. We expect nothing less.
The Coalition of Baltic Farmers is an umbrella organisation that represents the interests of farmers in the Baltic states.
Opinions expressed in View articles are solely those of the author