ParisImages of tractors blocking central Berlin, in front of the Brandenburg Gate, spread around the world in early January. In Poland and Romania, farmers and ranchers also blocked roads. In France, the sector's revolution began just over a week ago, with protests on major highways, and farmers threaten to collapse Paris as of Monday. Just over five months after the European elections, the mobilization of European farmers and ranchers has taken off and spread to almost all of Europe. Although the protests in each country have some different motivations, they all have one thing in common: the Green Deal) It is a European movement that the extreme right is quick to take advantage of.
The green transition and all European environmental policies have angered farmers, who are tired of seeing how they have to adhere to new societal regulations and prohibitions that have an economic cost on agricultural and livestock property. “The doubling of environmental measures is unbearable,” summed up a French farmer who participated in the protests. They claim that the public assistance needed to adapt is insufficient and that many farms are one step away from bankruptcy.
The German professor of science policy at Harvard University stressed that “not all European farmers have the same problems, but they have a common factor in their dependence on the European Union for subsidies, and in order to obtain them they must respect the rules and conditions of the European Union.” University of Mainz Kai Arzheimer in an interview with France Info. Rules that include, but are not limited to, restrictions on fertilizers or the obligation to adapt farm barns with new ventilation systems. The new European directives also require more administrative procedures, which infuriates farmers.
Ukraine and diesel price
In addition to the problem of adapting to the environmental transition without sufficient support, the sector faces other problems: production costs have increased as a result of the war in Ukraine, the price of fuel has risen in many countries or governments have announced higher fuel prices. Diesel subsidy ends. Eastern countries also condemn “unfair competition” from products that Europe imports from Ukraine, and the French complain of excessive regulation imposed by their government. “In France there are European rules in addition to French rules. In other words, we are penalized: our production costs us more money, for example, than it does in Spain,” laments a French farmer.
With the European elections approaching – in the first week of June – the far right is trying to capitalize on farmers' votes more than ever before. “The EU wants our agriculture dead!” Jordan Bardella, a far-right MEP and head of the National Rally party, said on Tuesday. The next day, one Think tank Funded by the ultraconservative government of Viktor Orbán, he was organizing a conference in Brussels entitled “Fighting the EU’s war on agriculture.”
Most European far-right parties are deeply Eurosceptic. Now they no longer defend their country's exit from the European Union, but rather want to dismantle the European project from within. French far-right political expert Jean-Yves Camus points out that criticism of European policies continues and they are trying to get the votes of citizens who are dissatisfied with anything related to the European Union, such as the votes of farmers.
“All these far-right parties highlight above all the risks that European policy could pose to agriculture, such as free trade agreements, which are unfavorable for European farmers, or environmental rules. Marine Le Pen, for example, says she will campaign against Punitive sanctions.” The environment,” defends Camus. MEPs and European election candidates from far-right parties from various countries took part in the farmers' demonstration in Brussels on Wednesday. The election campaign has already begun.
Packing by country
Protests by French farmers and ranchers have continued, blocking highways for 10 days. They arise for various reasons, including an increase in the diesel tax, a lack of aid to mitigate the costs of the green transition and the bypass of specific regulations in France. The government agreed to withdraw the fuel tax, but mobilization continues.
German farmers have been protesting since December against cuts in subsidies for the sector announced by Olaf Scholz's government, which also proposed increasing the price of agricultural diesel. To limit mobilization, the executive agreed to postpone the rate increase until 2026. It also promised less bureaucracy.
Italy's agricultural sector has already demonstrated last year against environmental community regulations because farmers consider that they are putting the future of Italian agriculture at risk. This sector was also severely affected by drought, as was the case in all of southern Europe. Now the protests have not been as large as in other countries, but they may become larger in the coming days.
Spanish farmers can join the European mobilization from February. Agricultural associations are considering measures at the state level, although it is also possible that there could be measures at the level of autonomous communities. Currently, a tractor protest has been called in some provinces, including Tarragona, on February 20, and a demonstration in Madrid the following day. So far there has been only occasional mobilization.
Like Polish and Romanian farmers, the Hungarians are protesting unfair competition from Ukraine and complaining about a lack of regulation of European imports from the war-torn country. Hungarian farmers are also demanding more aid for the sector from their government.
Polish farmers have been protesting for days by closing highways to denounce “uncontrolled” imports of agricultural products from Ukraine. After the start of the war, the European Union suspended customs duties on Ukrainian products, so that the country could export grain to Europe.
In Romania, farmers are also protesting against what they see as unfair “competition” from Ukraine, a country in the midst of war, to import agricultural products to Europe. Romanian farmers also complain about taxes imposed by the government.
Dutch farmers have been at war with the government since 2019, when the executive pushed through an emissions reduction plan that required a 30% reduction in the number of cows in the country. The 2019 protests caused the worst traffic jam in the country's history, with more than 2,000 tractors transported. And now the plan has been stopped. They are also protesting against the European Green Deal.
Outside the EU, UK farmers and ranchers share some of the concerns of EU farmers, particularly low prices at origin. Their biggest battle is against major retailers, such as Tesco, Aldi and Lidl, who demand fair prices and demand they honor commitments. However, mobilization in the UK is not as extensive as in the EU. The most important protest was this week in London, in front of the British Parliament, where farmers planted hundreds of scarecrows.
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