Tractors roll into downtown Prague as Czech farmers join protests

By Thomson Reuters Feb 19, 2024 | 4:28 AM

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Hundreds of Czech farmers drove their tractors into downtown Prague on Monday, disrupting traffic outside the Agriculture Ministry, as they joined protests against high energy costs, stifling bureaucracy and the European Union’s Green Deal.

Farmers across Europe have taken to the streets this year, including in Poland, France, Germany, Spain and Italy, to fight low prices and high costs, cheap imports and EU climate change constraints.

Czech farmers are planning to join protests this week, although major agricultural associations distanced themselves from Monday’s action, in which tractors blocked one lane of a major road through Prague, slowing but not completely snarling traffic.

Several hundred whistling and jeering protesters outside the Agriculture Ministry yelled “Shame” and “Resign” in comments directed at the minister, who has not met organisers of the tractor protest.

The government has said the organisers have little to do with real farming.

“Today’s demonstration does not have much in common with the fight for better conditions for farmers,” Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on X social media platform, adding that some of its organisers were pro-Russian or had other political aims.

“We are negotiating with those who represent farmers and discussing what our agriculture needs are,” Fiala said.

The Agrarian Chamber (AK) has called its own protests to join other European farmers at border crossings on Thursday, and has distanced itself from Monday’s tractor protest.

Its main complaint is EU farm policy, market distortions and low purchase prices coming from surpluses amid cheap imports from outside the bloc.

Farmers also complain of rising costs associated with the EU’s climate change fight laid out in the Green Deal, which sets out agricultural regulations for the bloc’s 27 members for decades.

“Farmers are desperate in this hopeless situation and do not know what they should expect in the near future, let alone the distant one,” AK president Jan Dolezal said last week. “They need stability in the business environment.”

(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Nick Macfie)