A turning point in the Ukrainian grain dispute?
Poland has agreed to allow the transit of Ukrainian grain through its territory again starting Saturday, provided that none of it remains in the country. Hungary is following suit, while Slovakia and Bulgaria are sticking to their import bans to protect prices for their farmers. Brussels, which had initially criticised the blockades, has now announced plans to restrict Ukrainian imports to these four states and Romania.
Dangerous cracks in transborder alliance
Hospodářské noviny warns:
“In Central Europe, the dispute over Ukrainian grain reveals the anti-Ukrainian currents present in society. In Poland and Slovakia these movements are linked to the nationalists, and it’s no coincidence that they are loudest there — both countries have elections in autumn. The weakening of Ukrainian support in Central Europe is all the more important for Russia’s propaganda because up to now it is been states like Poland and the Czech Republic that have been pressuring their partners from the western part of the EU to do more for Ukraine. If Russia succeeds in weakening support for Ukraine in Central Europe, it will weaken throughout the West.”
Brussels doesn’t understand members in Eastern Europe
The blockade is a justified protection mechanism for which the EU should show more understanding, The Spectator counters:
“The EU ostensibly backs Ukraine and its interests. Nevertheless, it also needs to stand behind its member states; they have every right to expect a thoughtful, nuanced and swift-footed reaction, or even some sympathetic words from Ursula von der Leyen. Unfortunately they have not got this. ... For one thing, [this lack of sympathy] shows up Brussels’s long-standing failure to understand eastern Europe. It has not grasped that, unlike in much of the West, large-scale relatively efficient agriculture is an important industry in the region that needs encouraging.”
Bratislava in a bind
The Slovakian government faces a dilemma in the run-up to the parliamentary elections, observes Új Szó:
“Agriculture is one of the most sensitive political issues in any country, with the potential to influence the outcome of parliamentary elections. This is particularly evident in Slovakia, as the early parliamentary elections slated for September draw ever closer. ... Ukrainian grain entering the Slovakian market has indeed also had a negative impact on Slovak farmers. But the unilateral import ban not only violates EU rules, it will also damage bilateral relations between Slovakia and Ukraine.”
EU states see Ukraine as a competitor
Relations with the EU will not be easy for Ukraine after the war, Strana fears:
“The European market will effectively be closed to Ukrainian agricultural products. ... And as the examples of Romania and Poland show, transit will be made as difficult as possible by the border countries. If the grain corridor in the Black Sea ports is not extended in May, the situation will become critical for Ukrainian food exports. ... All in all this is certainly not a positive signal for Ukraine, which aspires to join the EU. Judging by the episode involving agricultural exports, Europe sees Ukraine as a competitor. And if such drastic protectionist measures are taken during the war, one can only guess what conditions will be imposed on Ukraine once it ends.”