Farmers protest against environmental restrictions
Taking a page out of Dutch farmers' book, several thousand Slovenian farmers took to the streets with their tractors in more than two dozen cities and towns on 24 March in protest at environmental and other restrictions they say are making it near impossible to continue farming.
"We estimate there were at least 5,000 farmers participating in the protests or supporting us," said Anton Medved, the president of the Trade Union of Slovenian Farmers.
The protest is "an expression of farmers' dissatisfaction" and activities will be stepped up unless the government starts to consider our complaints, he said.
Action demanded of the government
The farmers have a variety of qualms, some of which are specific to their local environment, for example the expansion of the wolf and brown bear populations in south-west Slovenia that has led to frequent predation of livestock.
The protest is also partly a response to a recent Constitutional Court ruling that completely banned pesticide use in a water protection area of the Ljubljansko Polje aquifer around the capital Ljubljana.
But more generally, the farmers feel that environmental policies, and the latest EU guidelines on farming, are encroaching on traditional agricultural practices.
Farmers have been "sacrificed for the environmental experiments of activist and civil servants", Medved said. "Slovenia's green countryside and national prosperity are the result of the work of farmers. We will not let that be destroyed," he said.
The trade union has eight demands, chief among them that new environmental requirements do not "exceed the realistic capabilities of farming".
More specifically, they demand that the areas designated as Natura 2000 sites, where use of various farming techniques is restricted, be scaled back.
Slovenia has 355 Natura 2000 sites, of which 324 are designated under the Habitats Directive and 31 under the Birds Directive. Natura 2000 sites cover 37.46% of Slovenia's territory.
"We demand the implementation of climate and environmental measures set down in the strategic plan for Common Agriculture Policy in a manner that is useful, viable and sustainable," Medved said.
Other demands include reduction of red tape, food security being given precedence over environmental concerns, and the indexation of direct payments to inflation.
Escalation of activities planned
While movement has grown out of a small-scale protests by farmers over the construction of a major sewerage line north of Ljubljana that is being egged on by centre-right parties - interestingly, the farmers there do not want the sewerage line but want to continue using pesticides in the area - Medved was quick to point out that political parties are not involved.
"The purpose of the protest is to represent the interests of farmers," Medved said. The demands have been sent to the government and the farmers expect feedback. "We expect they will receive us within ten days. If not, we will step up our activities."
Agriculture Minister Irena Šinko, who met the representatives of farmers as they read out their demands in front of the National Assembly, said the ministry was "on the farmers' side, but some of the demands cannot be resolved overnight".
She is convinced that it is possible to achieve a consensus on certain issues. The ministry is in favour of more strictly protecting farmland, "but not everything is in the ministry's hands," she said.