2020.02.21 14:00

Baltic farmers occupy square in Brussels

BNS2020.02.21 14:00

Several hundred Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian farmers held a protest in Brussels on Thursday, demanding for direct payments to be on par with the EU average.

The farmers gathered in the Belgian capital ahead of the European Council meeting on the 2021-2027 budget. Lithuanian farmers now receive around 170 euros per hectare in direct payments, compared to the EU average of around 259.

Read more: Lithuania in EU budget talks: Ignalina NPP, farmers and depopulation in focus

Under the European Commission proposals, Lithuanians would receive slightly over 200 euros in 2027, which would be 78 percent of the EU average.

The demonstrators urged Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda who came to see them to demand a faster increase in direct payments.

"Our demand is to equalise our payments," Jonas Vilkonis, a farmer from Prienai District in central Lithuania and president of the Lithuanian Association of Milk producers, told the president.

Nauseda told the farmers it would be unrealistic to expect complete convergence but vowed to remind at the summit the pledge in 2013 that the payments would reach 196 euros in 2021.

The demonstrators held banners in Lithuanian and English with demands not to be treated as second-class citizen and calling for fair competition.

"Under such unequal conditions, when the nature bashes us as well, we can no longer compete," Danutė Karalevičienė, a farmer from Varėna in southern Lithuania, told BNS.

"Our key demand is not to discriminate the Baltic states in terms of payments. Our costs are even higher than in other countries that are better-modernised," said Petras Puskunigis, president of the Association of Lithuanian Agricultural Companies.

Brussels officials say the 196-euro level was not reached since the area of cultivated land has increased over this period and the amount was set based on the 2009 data.

Read more: Lithuania in for ‘shock therapy’ as EU funding drops

The European Commission is proposing cutting agricultural payments by around 5 percent following Britain's departure from the bloc, as well as the need to allocate more funding to face new challenges, including migration, climate change and the common defence policy.

Due to the cuts, the rural development programme in Lithuania, just as other countries, is set to lose around a quarter of the funding compared to the existing budget.