Protesting against the backdrop of Thursday’s EU summit, the farmers called on EU leaders to “keep their promise and give equal pay for equal work.”
The farmers say they were promised equal EU subsidies to those given to their Western European counterparts back in 2002 but EU leaders have “never followed through on this promise.”
Support for the protesting farmers came from Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, who asked the farmers to “stay strong.”
The former EU Commissioner, who was also in Brussels for the EU summit, said, "It is very good that farmers from all across Central and Eastern Europe are active on this issue. Central and Eastern European farmers are worthy of being seen and treated as equal members of the EU.”
"My message is this: Stand firm,” she told the farmers, who came from Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia.
The protest comes as crunch time approaches in the European Council on long-term budget discussions and the future of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Arūnas Svitojus, the president of the Chamber of Agriculture of Lithuania, and lead organiser of the protest, told this website, “We have travelled for more than 2 days from Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Slovakia and Czech Republic, all the way to Brussels to make sure that Prime Ministers don't forget their promise to treat all EU farmers equally.”
“Central and Eastern European farmers are worthy of being seen and treated as equal members of the EU” Dalia Grybauskaitė
“No more will farmers from Central and Eastern Europe accept being paid less than those of the West,” he added.
The farmers have complained that receiving lower grants from the EU than their Western counterparts leaves them at a significant disadvantage.
Lina Meilute-Datkuniene, a farmer from Lithuania who also travelled to Brussels for the protest, said, “My costs are constantly going up, just like they are for farmers in the West and I produce for the same consumers as farmers in the West. Where is the Single Market when the EU itself pays farmers in Central and Eastern Europe less than those in Western Europe? This is not acceptable.”
The farmers said that direct payments for all farmers should be “equalised” and they are also seeking a reduction of the “administration burden” they say they face.
Lithuania is among those not satisfied with the Commission’s proposal on direct agricultural payments. It says the EU is failing to meet its commitment of 2013 that direct payments to Lithuanian farmers will amount to €196 per hectare by 2020.
Moreover, the new seven-year budget does not ensure that payments will grow fast enough to reach the EU average, according to Grybauskaitė.
She said that such a budget proposal discriminates against Lithuanian farmers and results in unfair market competition.