May 21, 2024

Why are EU farmers protesting?

Focus on Agriculture

Farmers protest outside the Senedd, the Welsh parliament, over planned changes to post Brexit farming subsidies, in Cardiff, Wales.

Tractors are in the streets in Paris, Rome, Brussels and many other cities and towns across Europe this winter. The continuing farmer protests in several European countries have many motivations, some common to all and some particular to specific nations.

European farmers are burdened by debt, the continuing economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, lower grain prices due to disruptions from the war in Ukraine, climate-driven regulations, import competition and an agricultural support system that is not able to cope with these challenges.

It is also an election year in the European Union — for the EU Parliament in June, with the formation of a new EU Commission also on the horizon.

There are also upcoming national elections in several countries, including Austria, Belgium and the United Kingdom. Specific nations have their individual reasons for protests.

Farmers’ top concerns vary from Germans protesting government cuts in diesel subsidies to French protests against trade deals and environmental rules that add costs and lower production. Polish farmers have blocked border crossings to stop imports of lower-priced grain from Ukraine.

Farmers in Belgium, Italy, Greece, the Czech Republic and Spain are also taking to the streets to show the public their anger about new and costly rules that are being imposed on farmers. They are fed up with mandates and regulations designed without their input.

Farmers across Europe are urging EU officials to deal with farmers’ concerns over prices and bureaucratic rules that limit their ability to produce food and prosper.

In response, the EU Commission is taking action to stop a new rule, part of the EU’s so-called Farm to Fork strategy to deal with climate change, which would have required farmers to cut their pesticide use in half by 2030.

A sign of what was to happen began in 2019 in the Netherlands. Farmers drove their tractors to a protest of the Dutch government’s plan to sharply reduce nitrogen emissions from farms by halving the number of livestock in the country.

Farmers formed a new political party that has achieved enough support to become a part of the government.

Across the pond, farmers in the United States are dealing with some of the same issues as their European counterparts, but in a different way.

Through the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, farmers worked with other groups to muster support for voluntary, market-driven and incentive-based programs to include sustainable practices in their farming operations.

And farmers and ranchers are continuing discussions with Congress about the farm bill, pressing for assurance that the legislation is fiscally sound and responsive to producers’ needs.

One thing seems certain — old lessons have to constantly be learned by those in power: working with your nation’s farmers, instead of imposing top-down regulations, remains the best way to maintain a necessary and productive agriculture. Leaders must listen to those closest to the issues.

David Salmonsen

Dave Salmonsen is senior director of government affairs at the American Farm Bureau Federation.