Friday 26 June 2015

End of the line for Polish independence

One thing I am not anything approaching an expert on is Polish agriculture. But like any good hack, that's not going to stop me penning a few observations on it. It's a subject worthy of some discussion. 

The present law on land ownership in Poland has been in force since 1920. This law allows foreign interests to buy only small parcels. Larger plots can be acquired only with permission from the Ministry of Interior, which needs to refer every such decision with the Ministry of Agriculture. Consequently, this regulation makes foreign purchases of farmland very difficult. The accession agreement between Poland and the European Union (EU) allows for the preservation of the existing limitation until 2016 - but only until then at the EU insistence.

At the moment, and up until May 2016, permits are still required for non-Polish nationals to purchase land. But after that, the door will be wide open to legal ‘land grabs’ by outsiders. In retaliation to this and 2011 privatisation reforms, farmers have started blockading main roads in north-west Poland and using their tractors on the streets to highlight the message to keep Polish land for Polish farmers. Little coverage is being given of these issues on international news, and even in Poland, coverage is limited and generally biased against the interests of local farmers. In part this explains Polish hostility to GMO crops and TTIP - and US corporate enthusiasm for it.

The CATO Institute has been pushing the case to reform eastern bloc land laws since 2003 - ever eager for US agricultural oligarchs to move in, forming mega farms regulated by the EU and global bodies, making regulatory compliance unaffordable for smallholdings, making "farmhouse" food production effectively illegal or at the very least prohibited for export.

With a sector badly hit by EU sanctions against Russia, with counter sanctions hitting Polish agriculture particularly hard and in some cases permanently weakened, it will lead to a new EU compensation scheme - which corporates will no doubt be happy to receive. Try getting rid of that in twenty years time.

Though TTIP has temporarily stalled, the ownership reforms will go ahead, and with land prices low, there is still a state incentive for a land firesale and a huge corporate incentive to buy, especially since where the EU is concerned, no never means no. One way or another, a version of TTIP is coming whether you want it or not.

And of course if this is true for Poland, it is also true of Ukraine. It's not what's in Ukraine that interests the EU, but what's under it. Frack baby frack! This will of course mean "loan" conditions will be softened in exchange for favourable privatisation terms when Ukraine is fully bounced into the EU.

While this may lead to cheaper energy, less dependence on Russia and cheaper food it is effectively a corporate landgrab - and Poland will be a GMO nation whether it wants to be or not. Democracy goes nowhere near it.

Ironically, under communism Polish agriculture was the only key industry with a majority of assets privately owned. Unlike other sectors that were subject to rigid central planning, agriculture possessed a large number of people accustomed to risk-taking and familiar with the workings of the market mechanism. Under the EU to use the word market anywhere near the term agriculture is an abuse of the word.

I have often chastised eurosceptics for using the term "EUSSR" since by EU standards, where agriculture is concerned, the Soviet Union was more in line with the quaint notion of libertarian anarcho-capitalism. What we have here is New World Order corporatism in action.

What this does is buy our declining EU economy a few more years of borrowed time - a few more years of relative wealth to underpin its flimsy mandate - but when the Polish find themselves feudal serfs on their own land, they might wonder if it was worth it. Given this is the chief complaint of angrier Scottish Nationalists, invoking their land and people's narrative, one has to ask why they are so curiously fond of the EU? Interesting times ahead, as they say.

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