Maltese farmers are disgruntled with the EU not the government, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Tuesday. 

"I spoke with farmers and herdsmen. Most of their qualms are with regulations made by the European Commission," Abela said. 

The prime minister was speaking days after Maltese farmers joined European protests over EU policies they say threaten their livelihoods.

Those policies include EU trade deals that remove or reduce trade barriers for agricultural products from non-EU countries with laxer regulations and EU state aid rules that forbid governments from financially helping farmers. 

In a bid to calm tensions, the European Commission said on Tuesday that it would be scrapping a law that would have slashed the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture. 

Abela briefed parliament on Tuesday evening following a European Council summit held on Monday and Tuesday that discussed the farmers' protest, the war in Ukraine and the war in Gaza, among other topics.

Abela said European institutions should do more to listen to the concerns of European citizens. 

Robert Abela said EU bureaucrats had to 'leave the comfort of their offices'.Robert Abela said EU bureaucrats had to 'leave the comfort of their offices'.

"Institutions should leave the comfort of their offices and understand people's realities; if not, we will have regulations that rarely make sense," Abela said. 

"Regularly, European regulations look good on paper but in practice rarely make sense," he said. 

Abela said farmers support the government, which he described as a shoulder for the agricultural sector to lean on.  

He made no mention of his meeting with the European Commissioner for Agriculture just a few days before last week's protest by farmers.  

Government voted in favour of EU agriculture policies - PN 

Abela's statement was sharply rebutted by PN leader Bernard Grech, who said Abela was happy to criticise the EU in Malta, but failed to say that his government voted in favour of the EU policies farmers are protesting.

"Where was the government when these decisions were being taken?" Grech asked. "The government accepted these measures but now acts like it's all the EU's fault," he said. 

Bernard Grech noted that the government was criticising rules it had backed at EU level.Bernard Grech noted that the government was criticising rules it had backed at EU level.

While the PN constantly talks with the agricultural sector, Abela only went to speak with farmers on Friday when the government failed to stop the protests, Grech said. 

EU silent on Gaza - Abela

In a parliamentary speech that adopted a critical tone towards European institutions, Abela deplored what he said was the different way in which the EU had responded to wars in Ukraine and Gaza. 

While the EU rightly remained firm in its support for Ukraine against Russia, it has had a "diametrically opposed" position for Gaza, he said. 

"The EU has been completely silent on the Middle East; this sends a message that a life there means less than in other war-torn areas," he said. 

Abela said that the EU should use all its tools to stop aggression in the Middle East, just like it did with aggressors in other parts of the world.

He said Malta will continue calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. 

Grech said that the opposition and government have the same position on this issue. 

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