Germany’s farmers are fighting back against green tyranny

The Net Zero agenda poses an existential threat to European agriculture.

Sabine Beppler-Spahl
Germany Correspondent

Topics Politics World

German farmers have begun a week of nationwide demonstrations, blocking roads with tractors in protest against government plans to phase out agricultural subsidies. As Joachim Rukwied, president of the German Farmers’ Association (DBV), put it last month, ‘We will be present everywhere in a way the country has never seen before’. And the farmers are not alone. Lorry drivers, hauliers and tradespeople have also joined in the protests.

The current wave of unrest was prompted back in December. The German government announced plans to abolish tax breaks on agricultural diesel and introduce new taxes on farm vehicles – a move which would cost farmers on average €4,000 per year.

The swift and organised response of the farmers has already frightened the government. On 4 January, it tried to backtrack by announcing that subsidies for new farm vehicles would remain, and that the tax breaks on diesel would be phased out gradually over the course of the next few years, rather than suddenly this year. But these moves have not assuaged farmers’ anger. They insist that the ‘future viability of our industry’ is at stake. And so, as Rukwied put it last week, farmers ‘remain committed’ to the ‘week of action’.

It was naïve of the government to believe that its half-hearted compromise would ever appease the farmers. This conflict goes much deeper than a fight over taxes and subsidies. It is about farmers’ long-standing resentment of the green agenda that has been pursued by successive governments. This agenda now threatens the very future of German agriculture.

Indeed, the farmers first engaged in mass protest back in 2019, after Angela Merkel’s government demanded a 20 per cent reduction in the use of fertilisers and pesticides as part of its ‘agriculture reform package’. Merkel’s successors have only increased the pressure on farmers. Plans to further reduce fertiliser and pesticide use were announced last summer, with the government keen to meet the EU’s strict directives on nitrates. At the same time, the government announced it planned to tighten animal-husbandry regulations, entangling farmers in even more red tape and paperwork.

It is no exaggeration to say that the future of farming is at stake. In the space of just two decades, countless farms have already had to close. The number of farms in Germany during this period has almost halved – from nearly 450,000 in 2001 to 256,000 in 2022.

Environmental restrictions and soaring energy costs haven’t just affected smaller farms, either. Bigger farms have also felt the squeeze. To make matters worse, the prices of fertilisers and pesticides have risen sharply, as the German chemical industry has cut back production due to high energy prices.

Thanks to the government’s embrace of the green agenda, it is incapable of addressing farmers’ concerns. Over and over again, it pursues Net Zero objectives that are directly at odds with the interests of farmers. And just to rub salt into farmers’ wounds, Germany’s agriculture minister, Cem Özdemir, is a militant vegetarian. ‘If we all eat less meat together, we can all do our bit for the planet’, he told a TV talkshow last year. No wonder farmers have lost all trust in the government.

Instead of addressing problems afflicting the agricultural sector, the government, backed by the green-leaning media, has tried to discredit the protesting farmers. It is regularly claimed that the strikes are being exploited by populists and the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD).

An ill-advised action last week by more than 100 farmers in the north of Germany has only fuelled the elites’ view of the protesters as a far-right threat. Farmers turned up at a harbour to greet the economy minister, Robert Habeck of the Green Party, as he returned from his holidays. For security reasons, the minister was advised not to leave the boat. Habeck offered to let a delegation of two or three farmers on to the boat to speak to him, but they rejected this. There were then scuffles on the pier, and Habeck’s ferry turned back.

Still, the government’s attempts to smear farmers as right-wing insurgents ring hollow. For a start, many do not actually support the AfD, as is so often claimed. In rural Bavaria, which is home to many of the protesters, 52 per cent of farmers voted for the conservative Christian Social Union (the sister party to the centre-right CDU) in the most recent elections, and 37 per cent voted for the populist Free Voters, which is led by a former farmer.

What’s more, the broader public is also turning against the government’s green agenda and is siding with the farmers. Approval ratings for the Green Party have now sunk to 13 per cent, and the government coalition is polling at just 32 per cent. Some Germans living in urban areas might bristle at the tractors blocking their roads over the next few days. But they also know that farmers are hard-working people – and that without them the shelves of German supermarkets would be bare.

The German government’s green agenda has escaped scrutiny for far too long. Thanks to the farmers’ protests, the madness of these policies can no longer be ignored.

Sabine Beppler-Spahl is spiked’s Germany correspondent.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World


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