Farmers’ protests are the first serious challenge to the Tusk government

Farmers with their tractors block the border bridge with the Czech Republic, during a farmers' protest in Cieszyn, southern Poland, February 22, 2024. (EPA-EFE/JAREK PRASZKIEWIC POLAND OUT)
By Grzegorz Adamczyk
4 Min Read

There is an old fable about succession. An old ruler leaves two envelopes for his successor and tells him to open the first one when a crisis arrives. The new ruler does just that and sees the advice, “Just blame everything on me,” with a footnote: “When the next crisis arrives, open the next envelope.” He follows the advice that gets him through the first crisis, but a second one eventually comes along, so he opens the second letter which reads, “Sit down right now, write two letters, and put them in envelopes.”

The Tusk administration has already opened up the first envelope in its response to the farmers’ protests by saying that their cause is just and that it was all the fault of the previous PiS government. 

There is an element of truth in that claim. It was the PiS government that opened up the border in a gesture of solidarity that was in Poland’s self-interest, but it failed to stop the opening of the EU market to Ukrainian food and only introduced an embargo on Ukrainian grain when the horse had bolted and was roaming the fields. 

It was also the PiS government that in 2019 had agreed to the EU’s “Fit for 55” climate policy, which contained the very measures farmers are currently protesting against. If it believed that it was trading EU funds in return for the policy, the EU establishment didn’t honor its side of the bargain. 

But just blaming PiS will not be enough for the Tusk government. Farmers don’t want PR stunts involving ministers saying they support the protests, they want concrete measures to deal with the situation. 

The problem is that the Tusk government cannot deliver these because the demands farmers are making are unacceptable to Brussels as they run counter to the climate dogma, the dogma that PiS does not agree with but failed to counter. Unfortunately for the farmers, the new government was supported by Brussels and is therefore hitched to it. 

Tusk’s government also cannot introduce a blanket embargo on Ukrainian food products because that is an EU decision and also because of its political commitment to supporting Ukraine. Tusk is unlikely to have the kind of clout to be able to persuade the EU to stop trade with Ukraine. 

The reason the EU won’t help Tusk on this is because the reduction of CO2 emissions is only possible if production in the community is reduced and that can only be done if there is somewhere to import the food from. Without such competitively priced imports, the price of food would rocket, and voters and consumers would be up in arms. 

This is why Tusk and his crew will soon be facing the need to write their two letters and hand them over to their successors. The anger will not abate. The grapes of wrath will reap a bitter harvest. 

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