Credit: Peter Wilke, POLITICO

Europe’s farmers are protesting

By Em Wilson

Writer Em Wilson examines how Europe’s farmer protests could impact upcoming government elections and may be instrumentalised by the right.

Across Europe, farmers have blocked highways, trashed major cities, and sprayed landmarks with manure in protest of their governments and the European Union. The heart of these demonstrations are farmers from France, Germany, Poland, and various other European nations mobilising against policies they say hinder the future of their industry. Protests in these countries have gone viral on social media, garnering international attention and putting pressure on national governments and the EU to address the farmers’ concerns. 

What has captured the public’s attention has been the dramatic scale and length of the demonstrations across the continent. In France, government buildings were sprayed with manure, hay bales were set ablaze, and rubbish dumped onto streets while tractors and trucks choked main roads and highways. In Germany, thousands of tractors, alongside an estimated 30,000 demonstrators, shut down Berlin’s city centre, blockading the Brandenburg Gate and overwhelming the city’s main streets. Similar style protests have also occurred in Italy, Spain, Romania, Poland, Greece, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Belgium. 

While there is some variation in the contested policies by country, the core complaints include rising costs of supplies, falling sales price of goods, increasing government regulation, and foreign imports. Since the invasion of Ukraine, the average cost of fertiliser and energy has increased across Europe driving up the cost of production. However, since 2022, the average price for agricultural goods has steadily fallen as governments try to control inflation and prevent widespread food insecurity.

Moreover, the EU’s proposed environmental policy to mitigate climate change has come under scrutiny, particularly for its provisions requiring farmers to cut pesticide use, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and follow recommended water restrictions. Some demonstrators are also protesting internal policies such as Germany’s proposition to scrap diesel tax breaks for farming vehicles or the Netherland’s plan to cut nitrogen emissions within the agricultural sector. These regulations have also stoked resentment toward imported goods, as governments apply less stringent standards to imports compared to domestically produced items.

As the EU-wide election scheduled for June approaches, governments and political parties are paying close attention to the farmers’ protests, particularly right-leaning organisations. With so many of the farmers’ complaints riding on Green New Deal environmental reform and less government management, right-wing-populist parties are throwing their support behind the demonstrations, hoping to appeal to a broader voting bloc.

Right-wing leaders are calling for more moderate parties and politicians to stop backing free trade deals and new farming policies, blaming the “technocrats of Brussels” for the state of Europe’s agriculture industry. Initial polling surveys run by the European Council of Foreign Relations show right-leaning parties polling first in nine countries across the EU, with the farmer demonstrations acting as a catalyst to expand support in rural blocs. Whether that support will endure until the EU Parliamentary Elections in June remains to be seen.

The widespread visibility of farmer protests across Europe has raised concerns about their potential impact on upcoming government elections. With the Green Deal and environmental policies taking centre stage, apprehensions mount over the influence of far-right politics on shaping agricultural policies. While some governments have rolled back on planned policy changes, demonstrations have continued to gain momentum and international attention. As protests persist, Europe keeps all eyes on Brussels as they struggle to appease farmers while staying true to their policy goals.


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