Ever since the end of WWII, Europe has done its best to put on a united front for the world, and the 1993 formation of the European Union (EU) ensured everyone stayed on the same page. Even though COVID and the quarantines, the EU remained united and presented a strong message to the world despite the UK exiting in January 2020.
Suddenly when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 the EU began to fracture. Despite no country in the EU has a particular relationship with them, the concept of Ukraine joining the EU became too much for the group to handle. With conflicting answers about sending them aid or how much to get involved, the cracks began to grow more and more. With France showing a particularly strong relationship with China out of nowhere, now their President Emmanuel Macron wants the EU to make their own decisions about Taiwan instead of sticking by Washington or Beijing.
With Ukraine now desperate to get their winter grain sold, they have been trying to sell it in bulk and with a steep volume discount. However, Poland and Hungary are not willing to cut the throat of their countrymen, unlike Biden.
Instead, they have put a temporary ban on imports as of April 15th. Slovakia joined on the 17th, and Bulgaria said enough as well on the 19th. In Romania, riots are being held in protest of the discounted grain, but the country has yet to join the ban. The people of Ukraine, see the plight of the European farmer and sympathize with them, but officials in Kyiv are quick to say Ukrainians have it much worse.
For what it’s worth, top officials in the EU have promised to help the farms being affected by the changes and are condemning the countries for taking their own actions. Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi took it upon himself to leave the war-torn country to visit Warsaw in Poland to meet with Polish officials. On the 19th he was able to announce that Ukrainian food and grain would be able to once again flow through the country, and he would be meeting with other counties with bans in the following days.
As the war began Moscow sent troops on a beeline offensive for the shipping roots in the Black Sea and its ports. By stopping Ukraine’s exports their grain and other agricultural products could not get out into the world. With the removal of the block six months later in August, Ukraine was happy with the deal struck with Russia. However, with that set to expire on May 18th, the nation is rushing to export and import as much as it can in the meantime.
Alina Cretu, executive director at the Romanian Forum of Professional Farmers and Processors shared her concerns with Al Jazeera. “If some local traders buy these cereals from Ukraine, instead of buying from local farmers, which is already happening now, our farmers will face bankruptcy because we can’t compete with the price of Ukrainian cereals. We feel that the EU is not clear on how the situation is for farmers like us. Banning imports of Ukrainian grain into our markets for a determined period and ensuring the strict transition of it through Romania will help our farmers meander through this complex period.”
Cretu has an interesting perspective on the situation, as she not only knows the talk, but she and her husband walk the walk as farmers of wheat, barley, maize, and sunflowers. While not unheard of, here in the US many of the people leading the efforts for better conditions for farmers are not farmers themselves. They lack hands-on or practical experience, they just know what they read in a book or on a spreadsheet. Useful as books may be, they win you no bonus points with actual farmers.
This kind of conflict will not make for an easily united front. While the end of Russian aggression in Ukraine could help establish a better future for the EU, the damage has been done at this point, and many officials feel betrayed by other nations they thought they knew so well.