Will protests like these become a daily occurrence in Portugal? This image comes from a protest in Évora last year. Photo: António Carrapato/ Lusa
Will protests like these become a daily occurrence in Portugal? This image comes from a protest in Évora last year. Photo: António Carrapato/ Lusa

Portuguese farmers prepare to “paralyse country”

Furious farmers decide to copy French farmers’ protests

With French farmers more than a week into protests against the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy – which they say is leading them to financial ruin – the leading organisation representing Portugal’s small and medium-sized farming started this week explaining that the situation here is no less acute. The difference is the way in which Portuguese farmers have, up till now, been reacting. All that is set to change.

Following a meeting this morning, CAP, the national confederation of farmers has announced it will “paralyse the country” from 2am tomorrow.

Yesterday evening CAP’s president Álvaro Mendonça e Moura explained to SIC Notícias that Portuguese farmers have never been quite as dramatic as French counterparts, but the last straw to traditional Portuguese patience came when colleagues received information from the Institute of Finance of Agriculture and Fisheries last week that ecological/ biological and integrated production regimes were to receive between 25% and 35% LESS under the Strategic Plan of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Describing the cuts as “brutal”, Mendonça e Moura stressed the decision was not simply “incomprehensible and unacceptable”, it referred to subsidy payments to farmers which are already overdue.

In other words, Portuguese farmers have incurred their expenses (which they were expecting to be partially reimbursed) – in some cases they have commited to bank loans.

And now, the money coming through is to be considerably less than expected.

A series of meetings has been planned, but the most urgent one – deciding on tactics – has happened, and the upshot is tomorrow’s wave of protests.

Led by the “Movement for Agriculture”, blockades are planned for all the main frontier posts, as well as ‘smaller roads’, to start at 2am.

Blockades are planned in strategic areas like Trás-os-Montes, Minho, Beiras, Alentejo, Algarve and Ribatejo, as well as “important motorways” like the A2 (linking Lisbon with the Algarve) and A6 (connecting Lisbon outskirts to Spain), as well as roads leading to ‘vital ports’ like Sines.

Demands are widespread and longstanding. Media reports highlight “better working conditions, additional support for production, especially for young farmers, and measures like the reduction of taxes in agricultural fuel.

A note published on the confederation’s website  refers to it drawing up of a list of complaints, with measures to respond to them that could be implemented by the future government.

In other words, farmers’ discontent is likely to become yet another ‘hot topic’ in the looming elections. It is clear this far that PS Socialists have failed to respond to farmers’ issues over the years, thus the way forwards is open for political parties to state their positions.

Farmers are being asphyxiated by the PAC, which regulates the whole chain of production. All of them ask the same question: at the end of the day, will we have the money we need to keep going”, Pedro Santos, part of the national confederation told Público.

The plan today is a meeting with REPER, the permanent representative in Portugal of the European Union – as well as a meeting with euro MPs who sit on the parliamentary agricultural commission in Strasbourg. 

As for the Agriculture Ministry, CAP has said very little, and Público has admitted its journalists received no joy when they attempted to get a reaction. An official source said “everything has its time”, suggesting this was not the moment to make any kind of statement.

Farmers’ struggles, and dissatisfaction, with the Agriculture Minister have been well documented throughout the years of her tenure.

CAP’s note quotes its president saying that this ‘last straw’ came as a “result of the government’s stubborn refusal to listen to those who have experience and technical expertise on their side. Farmers are being harmed by the inefficient management of Common Agricultural Policy funds. Unfortunately, we are witnessing a government failure across the board, which generates mistrust and whose results are objectively harmful to farmers. In a couple of weeks’ time I have a meeting scheduled with the European Commissioner for Agriculture, to whom I will denounce this absolute shambles that is preventing Portuguese farmers from adopting the best environmentally friendly practices”.

Meantime, the focus of French farmers today is to ‘starve Paris’ of fresh food. Spain also has seen three main farming organisations announce a series of actions across the country in the coming weeks, while farmers in Belgium are also planning blockades.

Tomorrow, a summit of European leaders in meeting in Brussels – the protest certain to be on the agenda. ND

Source material: Lusa/ Público/ SIC Notícias/ C.A.P. (agricultores de Portugal)