Farmers blocking access to Vasco da Gama Bridge
Image from Coimbra this morning: Paulo Novais/ Lusa

Farmers “at gates of Lisbon” blocking access to Vasco da Gama Bridge

Protests continue into second day, despite government pledges

Portuguese farmers have continued their protests today, in spite of verbal pledges of over €500 million in funding by the government.

The crux of the issue is not simply the ‘national grievances’ but the wider failings at European level.

Farmers say the European Commission needs to “rethink the entire Common Agricultural Policy and the entire European Ecological Pact”, explains Lusa.

This morning, the main protest ‘blackspots’ were the Vasco da Gama bridge, giving access into Lisbon, and Avenida Fernão de Magalhães in Coimbra, where the ‘central administration for Agriculture’ in this country is based.

Farmers are furious with what they say are the failings of the agriculture ministry (principally agriculture minister Maria de Céu Antunes) but they are also determined to add their weight and voices to the wider European protests about the way in which agriculture  generally is being treated.

Yesterday, certain areas saw farmers’ blockades disband, on the basis of pledges made by the government at a press conference – but when it was realised that these pledges to a large extent had been made before, with nothing transpiring, “spontaneous reactions” shared over Whatsapp groups saw to it that some regions refused to ‘go home quietly’.

José Palha, coordinator of the SEDES Agriculture Observatory told reporters that “yesterday the Minister of Agriculture once again confirmed the aid that had been promised the day before, the €500 million – much of which was already budgeted for in this year’s State Budget and had already been promised last year, so there is a great climate of suspicion among farmers as to whether they will actually receive the money or not.”

But, looking beyond the national picture, he warned of the need for the European Commission to “rethink the entire Common Agricultural Policy” (CAP) which he says has “adopted strategies that are too restrictive for farmers”, as well as redesign “the entire European Ecological Pact”.

We don’t have the same conditions on the European continent that they have in other parts of the world, such as Brazil and the United States, which are our competitors”, he explained (…) “Europe doesn’t allow its farmers to work in this way, and rightly so, because these are practices that harm the environment, but it does allow imports from third countries where these rules are not complied with.” And these imports are able to undercut the prices of European produce.

In view of this, José Palha has called for an urgent review of the CAP and the strategic plan decided on by Portugal, which, in his opinion, is not adapted to the needs of the nation’s farmers.

Palha told SIC he believes the wave of protests throughout Europe will force the Commission back to the drawing board on various counts – “the European Green Deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy and all these completely ambitious strategies that leave European farmers in very difficult conditions“.

Meantime, in Coimbra, farmers are standing firm. The roughly 250 tractors and farming machinery that started ‘slow marching’ through the city yesterday remained in place overnight to return to driving slowly up and down the central avenue until a response is received to demands delivered on Thursday.

Says Lusa, the tactics involve noisily sounding horns on the hour, every hour.

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