EU harms farmers: bishop

Published October 1, 2007

A Polish bishop is urging the country’s farmers not to sell land to foreigners in order to prevent the European Union imposing injustices upon those who till the soil for living.

“Our hope lies, as never before, with those who work the countryside. You face a hugely important and difficult task – to defend Polish land and to defend our country,” said Stanislaw Napierala, the Roman Catholic bishop of Kalisz.

The bishop was preaching to thousands of Polish farmers at a harvest mass on Aug. 19 in the central Poland town of Pleszew. He said farmers had been “unjustly treated” since May 2004, when Poland joined the EU. The bishop charged that the EU favours large landowners when it comes to financial benefits.

“To make a profit, you have to own plenty of land and produce a lot. Most Polish farmers don’t have it easy and can hardly make ends meet,” Bishop Napierala said. Catholic church leaders have frequently defended the rights of Polish country-dwellers, who make up 40 per cent of the population but live mostly on subsistence farms of fewer than eight hectares (20 acres). Although the rural sector is scheduled to obtain 26 billion euros ($35 billion US) under the EU’s 2007-2013 budget, this is well below the figure allocated to Western producers due to new subsidy regulations which some see as working to the detriment of the latest EU members.

Many farmers have faced hardships because of a current labour shortage and a spring frost that wiped out 90 per cent of Poland’s fruit and vegetable crop earlier in the year. They say EU policy is deliberately designed to put small- and medium-sized farms out of business.

In his sermon, Bishop Napierala said many young people saw “no future in agricultural work,” adding that foreign producers would under EU rules soon be entitled to buy Polish land without restriction.

“They have the money and will certainly be ready to pay a high price for Polish land, which will still be cheaper than in their own countries,” the bishop told farmers at the mass, which was attended by local members of parliament and government officials. “Our forefathers defended the land against forced communist collectivization and foreign aggression, paying a high price in blood and life,” said Bishop Napierala.


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