Farmer Demonstrations Across Europe 

Written by Mahima Chhaparia

February 7, 2024

Affaires | Situation Room | Travel

Over the past few months, Europe has experienced a significant surge in farmer protests that have led to major travel disruption. Protest action has been reported in France, Germany, Greece, Poland, Ireland, Switzerland, Portugal and several other countries across the continent. The most common reasons for the protests are rising costs, cheap imports from foreign countries and heavy regulation. These reasons are also accompanied by country-specific local issues like the requirement to reduce nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands and plans to tax agricultural diesel in Germany. 

EU Summit in Brussels 

On 1 February, a Special European Summit was held at the European Quarter of Brussels to discuss the mid-term revision of the EU’s budget for 2021-2027. The agriculture sector and farmers were not a planned talking point at the summit. However, joint protest action by farmers of several countries forced the topic to the forefront. Farmers from France, Belgium, Italy, Greece and Germany marched along their tractors to the summit venue. They threw eggs at the European Parliament, burned tires and lit bonfires. After meetings with EU leaders, French farmer unions urged protestors to go home but warned of further consequences if promises were not kept. 

Causes 

While rising costs of living and farmers’ costs are the most obvious causes of the unrest and dissatisfaction, imports from Ukraine and climate issues are the most pressing ones. 

Import of agricultural produce and other materials from foreign countries became a major problem due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. After the war broke out, the European Union waived several quotas and duties to allow cheap imports from Ukraine. Farmers in Poland and Romania organised months-long blockades at their borders with Ukraine. The farmers called for Ukrainian produce to be exported in the Asian or African markets, instead of Europe. French farmers also expressed dissatisfaction over cheaper imports from countries like New Zealand and Chile. 

Climate change is a major issue and a growing concern for both governments and farmers. The farming sector constitutes 11 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions of the EU. In an attempt to make the bloc climate neutral by 2050, it has several planned policies. This includes requiring farmers to reduce fertiliser usage,implement crop rotations and devote some land to non-productive features among other requirements. According to the farmers, these requirements may make them less competitive against imports from foreign countries. The demand to farm sustainably coupled with the demand for cheap produce is the crux of the problem faced by European farmers and decision-makers. 

protest

Government Measures 

The farmers have called for increased economic protection and reduced regulatory constraints. The European governments have responded to these demands with a variety of measures. The French government pledged  €150 million aid to the farmers, cancelled a planned diesel tax increase and delayed several planned measures. The German government amended its plans to cut diesel subsidies. The Greek government announced an extension to the special tax rebate on agricultural diesel by one more year. The European Commission has proposed limiting imports from Ukraine. It has also announced a delay to the rules requiring farmers to keep 4 percent of their land free from crop production to encourage soil health and biodiversity. 

To conclude, while the farmer unions in France have called off their protests, action continues in other countries across Europe. Despite some concessions by the governments, farmers claim their demands have not been addressed. The underlying structural issues of European agriculture, including the need for sustainable farming practices and fair competition in global markets, remain unresolved. A solution will require a balance between promoting environmental sustainability, ensuring economic viability for farmers, and safeguarding food security for the citizens. 

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