When the union has to listen to its parts

Every union is more than a sum of its parts. But, at the same time, those parts make themselves keenly aware as entities vital to the union. The EU and its components are no exception. Three member states – Poland, Hungary, and now Slovakia – have banned import of grains and other food products from Ukraine. Bulgaria is considering a similar move. The European Commission has, not unexpectedly, reacted stressing that member states cannot take unilateral measures. But good intentions – in this context, keeping Ukrainian food in global market circulation – need to be sustained by hard-nosed realism.

Ensuring the EU acts as a bloc is important in keeping Russia under pressure. The Kremlin, of course, is portraying these developments as a crack in ‘Western unity’. The fact is, Poland and other member states have been among the staunchest supporters of Ukraine, stepping in very early on and offering to help take grain out of Ukraine outside the EU. But supply from Ukraine – Poland used to import 1 lakh tonnes of food that rose to 24.5 lakh tonnes in 2022 – mostly remained in the EU. This was partly because post-pandemic demand in many importing countries fell, not to mention the energy and food shortage resulting from the Russian invasion. This glut drove down incomes for domestic farmers resulting in protests.

The EU crisis fund of ₹56 million is not enough to help alleviate the situation. With elections across Europe lined up, governments are responding to domestic demands. The longer the war in Ukraine continues, the more such contradictions will come to the fore. Recognising the multiple factors pushing nation state concerns over geopolitical ones should be another arrow in the quiver of reasons to pull the war to a stop.


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