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German farmers' protest sparks chaos

January 8, 2024

Nationwide protests erupt in Germany as farmers rally against diesel subsidy cuts. Many streets and roads in the country are closed due to the protests.

Tractors, one with a sign reading, 'No Farmers, No Future,' seen in the northern Germany city of Kiel
Thousands of tractors and trucks blocked streets and highways across Germany Monday, kicking off a week of disruptionsImage: Christian Charisius/dpa/picture alliance

German farmers began a week of nationwide protests Monday, causing traffic jams across the country as they blocked streets and highways with thousands of tractors and trucks.

Monday's actions were the latest in a series of protests venting anger over the coalition government's decision to cut some diesel subsidies to farmers and transport truckers.

The cuts were due to budget shortfalls after Germany's Constitutional Court declared Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government could not reallocate tens of billions in coronavirus relief funds for other purposes.

Not only did convoys consisting of thousands of tractors and trucks cut off cities, they also halted production at a Volkswagen facility in the northern German city of Emden.

In Lower Saxony, one protester was seriously injured and had to be flown to a hospital after being struck by a vehicle that drove onto the sidewalk alongside a blocked street.

Anti-government sentiment and far-right symbols prominent at protests

Many of the vehicles involved in Monday's protests featured banners emblazoned with the logo of the far-right nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has unsurprisingly come out in support of farmers rallying against the government.

Politicians from other parties, including the conservative CDU/CSU, as well as the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), have also voiced support.

Currently, AfD is polling at around 23% nationally, far outpacing the governing SPD, Greens and FDP.

Security experts, however, have warned that the increasingly aggressive protest is at risk of being infiltrated by extreme anti-government organizations. Some of the protests have been accompanied by people brandishing far-right symbols and clashing with police — much like those seen at anti-vaccine and anti-migrant protests in the past.

German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck — who has become the target of angry farmers, some of whom tried to board and confront him on a ferry that he, his wife and numerous other passengers were on Thursday — warned in a social media video that some involved in the actions were spreading "coup fantasies,” adding that, "nationalist symbols are being openly displayed."

In response, German Farmers' Association (DBV) President Joachim Rukwied said, "I see no danger at all of our association being infiltrated [by the far right]."

Instead, Rukwied accused the government of "robbing agriculture of its future viability" and "jeopardizing the secure supply of high-quality domestic food."

Germany Farmers' Protest

Farmers still mad despite government backtracking

The week of protests, which will culminate in a major event in Berlin next Monday, comes after the Berlin coalition attempted to mollify farmers who had protested loudly in December by backtracking on an initial subsidy cut proposal put forth after the Constitutional Court's budget ruling.

Initially, Berlin proposed doing away with a tax break for the purchase of farming and forestry equipment as well as agricultural diesel fuel subsidies. Now the tax breaks will remain, and fuel subsidies will not be phased out until 2026.

Currently, farmers pay roughly half the price automobile drivers do for diesel as a result of government subsidies. The coalition in Berlin says moving away from diesel will help improve the environment.

Farmers, however, say they have no alternative fuel options and the withdrawal of subsidies threatens to drive them out of business.

"We are hoping that the Berlin government will see reason and that this disproportionate burden on agriculture will be reduced. That is our core objective at the demonstrations," said Farmers' Association President Rukwied on Monday.

Habeck says discounters are the problem, not the government

Vice-Chancellor Habeck said it was understandable that farmers were upset and unwilling to give up subsidies. He suggested, however, that their beef was not with the government but rather the changing face of the sector.

"It's called structural change. I think that's euphemistic. It's the industrialization of agriculture." He said the problems weren't being caused by Berlin, but rather by massive discount supermarket chains, slaughterhouses and dairy manufacturers.

With farmers unable to set their own prices and discounters and consumers pushing for ever lower prices on meat, milk and other products, farmers have become locked into a cycle in which they are expected to produce more for less, pushing smaller farms out of business.

Fairer prices, sustainability rewards and direct sales to consumers offered a way out of the impasse, said Habeck, "In my opinion, we should use the current debate to seriously and honestly discuss exactly that."

Farmers block roads across Germany

js/wd (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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