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Europe's farmers are up in arms - this shows: There is a problem with climate policy


Highlights: Europe's farmers are up in arms - this shows: There is a problem with climate policy. Rising production costs and falling food prices put farmers under pressure from two sides. In response to the farmers' protests, the EU is making a sharp reversal of its climate policy in the agricultural sector. This article is available for the first time in German - it was first published by Foreign Policy magazine on February 20, 2024. For confidential support on suicide matters call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see for details.

As of: February 26, 2024, 8:22 p.m

From: Foreign Policy




The unrest highlights the compromises governments must make on climate policy.

The farmers feel left alone and the EU agriculture ministers have to react.

  • Transforming the agricultural sector is necessary to combat the climate crisis

  • Farmers are the ones who suffer and have to bear the costs of climate policy

  • Rising production costs and falling food prices put farmers under pressure from two sides

  • In response to the farmers' protests, the EU is making a sharp reversal of its climate policy in the agricultural sector

  • This article is available for the first time in German - it was first published by

    Foreign Policy

    magazine on February 20, 2024 .

BRUSSELS — After months of protests by outraged farmers in cities across the continent, European lawmakers are grappling with how to calm the anger.

New green agricultural regulations were the last straw.

This backlash underscores the difficult trade-offs governments face in energy transition.

The agricultural sector cannot be neglected in the climate crisis - but the farmers are fighting back

To meet ambitious climate goals, European leaders have unveiled a series of measures to transform the agricultural sector, an industry responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

However, these measures have infuriated tens of thousands of European farmers, who have staged massive protests to express their frustration over the economic burden of recent climate regulations.

Rising production costs and cheap foreign imports, particularly from countries with less stringent regulations, are part of the EU's major agricultural problem.

Hundreds of Czech and Greek farmers poured into the streets of Prague and Athens this week, continuing the recent wave of protests in Europe that has swept all but four countries.

Only farmers in Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden are still holding back from protests.

In some cities, angry farmers dumped copious amounts of manure and pelted city buildings with eggs;

others used their tractors to block ports and roads.

Farmers across Europe are protesting against green policies in agriculture.

© Fotandy

The costs of climate policy must not be borne by farmers

“There are costs to imposing these stricter climate regulations on farmers, and the costs have to be borne somewhere,” said Caitlin Welsh, a global food security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“If the costs are imposed on farmers, then they will produce less.

The farmer will protest.

That is going to have consequences".

Those implications are now coming into greater focus as lawmakers fear that far-right groups will exploit farmers' anger ahead of European Parliament elections in June.

So some will probably give in to their demands.

But even as lawmakers make new concessions, some farmers have vowed to step up their fight.

What are the farmers' protests about?

EU agricultural regulations, price pressure and agricultural imports

While the exact complaints vary from country to country, Europe's farmers generally say they are being hit by a storm of converging pressures: a rise in production costs and a fall in global food prices;

cheap agricultural imports that have flooded their markets, particularly from Ukraine;

and now also a mix of national and EU agricultural regulations targeting farmers' subsidies and the use of pesticides and fertilizers.

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When it comes to EU-wide policy, much of farmers' frustration is directed at the European Green Deal, Brussels' plan to cut emissions by overhauling the continent's food, transport and energy systems.

The agreement sets ambitious targets for the agricultural sector to be achieved by 2030.

These include halving the use of chemical pesticides and antimicrobials and reducing fertilizer use by 20 percent.

Farmer protests are not an isolated case in the EU – the climate crisis is putting pressure on farmers worldwide

But European farmers' frustration is also part of a larger global picture, said Christopher Barrett, an agricultural economist at Cornell University.

“Farmers around the world are currently under significant stress,” he said.

As falling commodity prices and rising input costs put farmers under pressure, governments are increasingly turning away from direct agricultural subsidies and instead supporting more environmentally friendly production methods.

In Europe, where a third of the EU budget traditionally goes to the agricultural sector, many farmers are also used to generous government support and changes proposed by lawmakers have sparked fierce opposition.

In Germany, for example, there were protests against Berlin's plans to cut fuel subsidies for farmers, while demonstrations in France focused on a ban on pesticides.

In the Netherlands, nitrogen taxation was a key issue, and in Italy, income tax relief was one of the focal points of protests.

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“Farmers in Europe and here in the United States are increasingly feeling politically under attack, as if the support they have long received from the government is being withdrawn,” Barrett said.

“It understandably worries them.”

Farmers' protests are increasing pressure on politicians - right-wing extremist parties see their opportunity

Worried about alienating a key base ahead of European Parliament elections in June, lawmakers have rushed to make concessions to appease farmers.

In one of the sharpest reversals, the EU this month abandoned its key proposal to cut pesticide use by 50 percent, while top officials stressed that Brussels and farmers share the same goals.

France, Germany, Greece and Italy have also watered down their original plans.

“We want to make sure that farmers have the say in this process,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament in early February.

“Only if we achieve our climate and environmental goals together will farmers be able to continue to earn a living.”

But Europe’s right-wing extremist parties are also hoping to ally with farmers and use their anger to gain political momentum before the election in June score.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, for example, has already used the French demonstrations to criticize French President Emmanuel Macron;

The populist Dutch farmers-citizens movement has also used farmers' frustration to rail against “radical environmental protection”.

Farmer protests: balancing act over concessions and climate protection

“Long live the farmers whose tractors are forcing Europe to roll back the nonsense imposed by multinational corporations and the left,” said Matteo Salvini, Italy’s far-right deputy prime minister, in response to the EU’s decision to shelve pesticide restrictions.

The EU's renaturation law will push back intensive agriculture in this country a little.

© Nariman El-Mofty/dpa

“The emerging radical right is taking advantage of these protests,” said Rosa Balfour, the director of Carnegie Europe.

“As we move towards the European Parliament elections, everyone is very worried about this.”

But experts warn that too many concessions could backfire.

“The risk is that if they give in to some of these demands, or if they continue to give in to some of these demands, the young people who voted in 2019 will not vote in 2024,” Balfour said.

What does this mean for the green energy transition?

Europe's current dilemma highlights the difficult economic and political trade-offs that all governments will inevitably have to grapple with as they transition away from fossil fuels.

Especially when it comes to transforming the agricultural sector.

As the energy transition gains momentum around the world, experts say the protests in Europe could be a harbinger of what's to come.

“The EU may have this problem the most at the moment, but other countries are not far behind,” says Barrett of Cornell University.

“We will all need to adapt our policies to support agriculture to take into account the environmental and health impacts of our agri-food systems.

And we must ensure that farmers and rural communities are not left behind in this process.”

Farmer protests will continue: “It will explode”

Meanwhile, farmers across Europe have vowed to continue the fight.

Greek farmers recently rejected concessions proposed by Athens, while Polish farmers continued to throw eggs at government offices and Bulgarian protesters last week called for the resignation of the country's top agriculture minister.

And in France, where hundreds of farmers recently called for a "siege" of Paris, the leader of France's largest farmers' union has warned that demonstrations could start again if the government's efforts don't go far enough.

And the more governments give in, the further the protests could spread.

When farmers see that a protest is successful, "they say, 'OK, we have to do that too.'

This is the way we mobilize.

“It works and gets people on our side,” said Scott Reynolds Nelson, a historian at the University of Georgia and author of Oceans of Grain: How American Wheat Remade the World.

“So I think it’s going to explode.”

About the author

Christina Lu

is a reporter at Foreign Policy.

Twitter (X): @christinafei

We are currently testing machine translations.

This article was automatically translated from English into German.

This article was first published in English in the magazine “” on February 20, 2024 - as part of a cooperation, it is now also available in translation to readers of the IPPEN.MEDIA portals.

Source: merkur

All news articles on 2024-02-26

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