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Commission splits from rogue Commissioner as clock ticks on crucial Ukraine ban decision

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Cracks have appeared in the European Commission after it was forced to distance itself from its own Agriculture Commissioner over a crucial decision of whether to extend restrictions currently imposed on the import of Ukrainian agrifood goods.

The current temporary ban on select Ukrainian agricultural goods – wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds – was put in place to appease frontline countries who unilaterally imposed their own trade restrictions back in April after an influx of Ukrainian agricultural products put pressure on their farmers.

After a first prolongation in June, the ban is set to expire on 15 September but its further renewal has proved a bone of contention for the Commission, which is stuck between solidarity for Ukraine on the one hand, and support for the EU frontline countries – Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia – on the other.

However, the delicacy of the situation has not stopped EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who joined the EU executive from Poland, from putting forward his personal take on the path the EU executive should take.

“If this ban will be not prolonged, we will have the same problem [as] before with the frontline member states,” the Commissioner told lawmakers in the European Parliament’s agriculture committee on Thursday (31 August), suggesting that it is the only way to avoid a “huge crisis” in these member states.

“We want to avoid another crisis like this. This is a word of warning – there is a way to avoid the repetition of this problem,” he said, telling journalists on the sidelines of the meeting that a prolongation of the ban is the “best compromise solution”.

While the Commissioner stressed this was not yet the EU executive’s official position, he told lawmakers he “hoped it soon would be”.

“This is my personal opinion, but it has been proposed,” he said. “This is a proposal on the table,” Wojciechowski specified, adding that Ukraine “has welcomed the proposal I have presented here”.

However, the Commission was quick to refute his comments.

“At this stage, we are not in a position to comment on measures that have not been taken,” a spokesperson told journalists on Thursday at the EU executive’s midday press briefing, stating that there is currently “no such proposal on the table”.

Instead, the Commission is “analysing all options and coordinating with the relevant countries […] to really find pragmatic solutions,” the spokesperson said, adding that work is ongoing.

For the spokesperson, the intervention of Wojciechowski was rather “a broader exchange of views” with MEPs “but not something based on any sort of official contribution from the Commission”.

This is something that “has to be discussed in the College of the Commissioners with a full Commission, and a decision would need to be taken before we can analyse the consequences,” the spokesperson added.

Asked on the sidelines of the meeting, Wojciechowski confirmed that the issue has not yet been discussed by the College of Commissioners.

“It was not yet discussed in the plenary meeting of the Commission, but there is a lot of form[s] of discussion in the Commission, there is discussion between the cabinets,” he said, reiterating that he was representing only his own opinion.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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