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The fury of Europe’s farmers

The continent-wide revolt against the green agenda has shaken the EU elites to their core.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Politics World

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Europe’s farmers are rising up – and the elites are terrified. In France, farmers recently staged a four-day ‘siege of Paris’, blocking major roads around the French capital. In January, thousands of tractors descended on Berlin in Germany, lining the streets leading up to the Brandenburg Gate. In Brussels, farmers have gathered from all over Europe to demonstrate against the EU and pelt the European Parliament with eggs. In the Netherlands, tractors have caused the longest traffic jam in the nation’s history, as part of a years-long battle between farmers and the government. This farmers’ revolt is now truly Europe-wide. From Portugal to Poland, from Ireland to Italy, almost every EU country has been rocked by protests. So what is driving this populist uprising? What do the farmers want?

Farmers in each country have their own specific grievances, of course. But there is a common root to their anger. What connects them is the European Union’s green agenda, which has been imposed on agriculture from on-high. It has made farmers’ lives a misery, sacrificing their livelihoods at the altar of climate alarmism. Bureaucrats who have no idea how farmers work and live, have essentially been condemning farms – many of them run by families for generations – to oblivion, all at the stroke of the regulator’s pen. And farmers are simply not putting up with it anymore.

The first stirrings of revolt began in 2019, in the Netherlands, with the so-called nitrogen crisis. The Dutch Supreme Court ruled that the government was failing to cut nitrogen pollution to EU-approved levels. In response, the Dutch government promised ‘drastic measures’ to cut nitrogen emissions. In all but name, it declared war on its nation’s farmers. Suddenly, the government had turned against one of its most important and impressive sectors. You see, the Netherlands, despite its small size, is the second-largest exporter of food in the entire world, thanks to the world-beating efficiency of its farms. And nitrogen is intrinsic to this efficiency. Fertilisers are rich in nitrogen, and farmers need fertilisers to maximise their crop yields. Nitrogen is also an inevitable byproduct of animal farming. Livestock release ammonia, a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen, through their excrement. The Netherlands has over four million cows, 13million pigs and 104million chickens. Which is a lot of manure and a lot of nitrogen. Any crackdown on nitrogen emissions was always going to hit farmers hard. Even so, the Dutch government’s proposals went even further than anyone could have imagined. It said it would buy out thousands of the most polluting farms and simply shut them down. Other farms would have to cull a proportion of their animals. This would mean slaughtering around half of all the livestock in the Netherlands. In all, this represented an unthinkable act of national economic self-harm.

Thus, the farmers’ revolt was born. Huge protests erupted in 2019. After a brief hiatus during the Covid pandemic, they came roaring back in 2021 and 2022. Dutch farmers blocked roads, railways and canal bridges with tractors and hay bales. They defied government bans to bring tractors into the Hague. Tens of thousands took part in the demonstrations. But the Dutch government did not back down. It kept proposing new targets, new measures and new restrictions on nitrogen. In 2022, the government’s own figures revealed that around 30 per cent of farms would have to close to meet their targets. And last year, it drew up a list of the 3,000 farms that it wants to forcibly close within the next few years.

All of this has been done with the approval and encouragement of the EU. And there is worse to come in the Netherlands and beyond. The absurd nitrogen rules that are threatening Dutch farms come from an EU environmental directive that dates back to the 1990s. But the EU’s eco-mania has intensified massively since then. Farmers now have to contend with the drive to Net Zero, too. According to Laurence Tubiana, chief executive of the European Climate Foundation and the architect of the Paris Climate accords, Net Zero will require ‘the biggest overhaul of farming since the Second World War’. And yet, once again, farmers haven’t been consulted on this. Targets have simply been drawn up by the technocrats and rubber stamped by national governments, without any consideration for their impact on farmers and their ability to produce food.

Under the EU’s so-called Green Deal, every EU member state has to reach Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. And the EU’s emissions rules for agriculture are especially, insanely, stringent. The punishing green policies don’t stop there, either. The Farm to Fork strategy, announced in 2020, calls for 10 per cent of farmland to be set aside for non-agricultural use. It says that at least a quarter of EU farms should become organic. It says fertiliser use must fall by 20 per cent. Pesticide use must be cut by 50 per cent. And all of this should be done by 2030. Each of these demands would be enough to put thousands of farms out of business on their own. When combined, they pose an existential threat to European agriculture. And if the EU’s laws weren’t bad enough, member states are actually gold plating these regulations. The EU had already demanded the impossible of farmers. Now national elites in Berlin, Paris and The Hague want to go even further.

This is why farmers are out on the streets across the continent. It’s why they’re taking matters into their own hands. It’s why they feel they have no choice but to block roads with their tractors, bring life to a standstill and dowse public buildings with manure. They are determined to remind the powers-that-be just how essential they are to the functioning of modern life.

At first, the elites tried to dismiss the protests. They resorted to their usual playbook. They called the farmers fascists, far right and pawns of online disinformation. But this propaganda campaign has flopped. Not only have these smears failed to demoralise the farmers, they have also failed to turn the public against the protests. In country after country, European peoples are backing their farmers, even as the protests disrupt daily life.

In the Netherlands, where our story began, a farmers’ party briefly managed to storm electoral politics, too. The Farmer-Citizen Movement – or BBB – was set up in 2019 amid the nitrogen-crisis demonstrations. Less than four years later, the BBB swept the board in the Dutch provincial elections. It won the popular vote in all 12 provinces – the first time any party had achieved this in Dutch history. While the farmers’ protests managed to bring tens of thousands on to the streets, the farmers’ party managed to mobilise almost 1.5million voters.

The fury of the farmers has now become impossible to ignore. The usually tin-eared elites across Europe have been forced to listen and respond. In Germany, farmers have got their government to delay planned cuts in subsidies for agricultural fuel. And they have managed to keep their tax breaks on tractors and farm vehicles, which were also under threat. In France, farmers have extracted millions of euros in additional grants. And they’ve put paid to government plans to hike fuel taxes. In Ireland, a deranged government proposal to cull 200,000 cows has quietly been shelved. Even at the EU level, farmers have already chalked up some significant victories. Remember that plan to halve the use of pesticides by 2030? It’s now been torn up.

But the protests aren’t going to stop anytime soon. How could they? These concessions, though welcome, do not go nearly far enough. The green agenda is diametrically opposed to the interests of agriculture. So long as European politicians are committed to Net Zero, then the farmers will always be in their sights. What’s more, the farmers’ cause will continue to resonate with ordinary people, who are also served poorly by their environmentalist leaders, whose policies are pushing up prices and obliterating food and energy security. The farmers are merely the canaries in the coalmine. They were just the first group of people to be pushed to breaking point – and to get organised in response.

The farmers offer a cautionary tale to Europe’s rulers. The green elites assumed that farmers would take their bitter medicine. They had no idea just how devastating their regulations would be to farmers’ way of life. They failed to see the human beings behind the emissions figures on their spreadsheets. And the broader push for Net Zero could soon generate much more resistance, from a much broader section of society. After all, under the current plans, our energy bills are set to soar, as we replace reliable fossil fuels with unreliable renewables. Our trusty gas boilers could soon be ripped out, replaced with expensive and inefficient heat pumps. Older, cheaper vehicles are being banned or taxed off the road in the push towards electric cars. Yet again, the establishment seems to think it can change our way of life and shred our living standards without a peep of discontent. This is bound to provoke an almighty backlash. And the farmers have shown us the way.

Long may the farmers’ revolt continue. And here’s hoping it inspires many more people to take a stand.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Watch the video version below:

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World

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