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Germany: Farmers' protest causes nationwide disruption

Published January 8, 2024last updated January 8, 2024

German farmers are angered by the government's plans to slash agricultural subsidies. Blockades have disrupted road traffic across the country, posing a nightmare for commuters.

German farmers and tractors in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
More than 500 tractors and truck were parked at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.Image: Nadja Wohlleben/REUTERS
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • Farmers are blockading roads in a protest against subsidy cuts
  • The German government has said it will not change course on subsidies for farmers
  • German Economy Minister Robert Habeck calls for a debate about the agricultural secto
  • Blockades are expected to persist throughout the week

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Skip next section Watch: Farmers block roads across Germany
January 8, 2024

Watch: Farmers block roads across Germany

Watch DW's Tina Gerhäusser's report on the day of protest here:

Farmers block roads across Germany

Skip next section Protest in pictures
January 8, 2024

Protest in pictures

A person shows thumbs up at the site of the demonstration, as German farmers take part in a protest against the cut of vehicle tax subsidies, in Munich
Despite the disruptions caused, some people still supported the protestImage: LEONHARD SIMON/REUTERS


Farmers and tractors in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
Farmers took their protest to the Brandenburg Gate landmark in the heart of the government quarter in Berlin.Image: Michael Kuenne/ZUMAPRESS.com/picture alliance
Farm vehicles queue, as German farmers take part in a protest in Bonn, Germany,
Convoys of tractors and lorries rolled through cities and dozens of motorway access roads were blockedImage: JANA RODENBUSCH/REUTERS
German farmers are silhouetted, as they block access to highway A10 during the protest  in Vehlefanz, Germany,
The Farmers' Association had called for a week of action Image: Fabrizio Bensch/REUTERS
Skip next section Opposition's Merz says too early to cut subsidies
January 8, 2024

Opposition's Merz says too early to cut subsidies

German opposition leader Friedrich Merz has expressed his solidarity with the farmers' protests, saying that the time is not right.

However, the Christian Democrat (CDU) leader said future subsidy cuts might be necessary.

"I don't promise you that things will stay that way forever with vehicle tax exemptions and diesel taxes," he said at a protest rally in the Sauerland region. "We will have to think about saving," he said.

Merz sharply criticized the government's plans and stressed that certain conditions must be met before reducing the current subsidies. 

For example, he said, alternatives must first be available for diesel-powered agricultural vehicles. 

In addition, he said: "It has to take place throughout Europe and not just unilaterally in Germany."

"This one-sided discrimination against German agriculture must come to an end," the CDU leader said. 

Skip next section State premiers question subsidy withdrawal
January 8, 2024

State premiers question subsidy withdrawal

Leaders of several German states have called upon the federal government in Berlin to reverse its decision to cut subsidies on agricultural diesel. 

State premiers of Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, and Saarland on Monday said the burden on farmers as a result of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's traffic light coalition's budget cuts was too high.

Lower Saxony's state premier, Stephan Weil, told the broadcaster ZDF that there had been an above-average burden on agriculture. 

He also noted that farmers faced a double hit with increasingly strict requirements in the fight against climate change.

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state premier Manuela Schwesig said it was not just a matter of supporting farmers and that financial support for agriculture also serves to ensure that food remains affordable.

Saarland Prime Minister Anke Rehlinger told the Rheinische Post that farmers had no other option than to use diesel fuel for tractors "at least in the short term."

Weil, Schwesig, and Rehlinger are all members of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's center-left Social Democrats.

Skip next section Demonstrator hit by car, driver detained
January 8, 2024

Demonstrator hit by car, driver detained

Police in Lower Saxony say one of the participants in the farmers' protests was seriously injured after being hit by a driver. 

It was unclear whether the demonstrator had been targeted intentionally, police in the town of Offenburg said posted on the X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. 

The driver was said to have tried to skirt the protests by driving onto the pavement and a cycle lane. After seriously injuring the demonstrator, the motorist fled but was said to have been apprehended later by police.

The injured protester was taken to hospital by helicopter.

Skip next section Blockades in full effect across Germany
January 8, 2024

Blockades in full effect across Germany

Tractors headed into Munich on Monday
Thousands of tractors from surrounding areas entered the Bavarian capital, Munich, police saidImage: Sven Hoppe/dpa/picture alliance

The protests are in full swing across Germany, with farmers' vehicles blocking access to highways and city centers.

In Munich alone, police said they had accompanied about 5,500 tractors from the surrounding region toward the city. A rally was planned for later in the center of the Bavarian capital.

Officials in the state of Brandenburg said entire towns had been blockaded by the protesting farmers, including Brandenburg an der Havel and Cottbus.  

Police in Rhineland-Palatinate reported an 18- to 20-kilometer (about 12-mile) long convoy with more than 1,000 tractors and trucks moving along the autobahn toward the state capital, Mainz. 

There were also numerous demonstrating farmers with heavy machinery in the urban areas of Hamburg and Bremen, as well as Düsseldorf in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Skip next section Berlin says will not change course on agricultural subsidies
January 8, 2024

Berlin says will not change course on agricultural subsidies

The German government says it is not considering any further changes to plans to phase out agricultural subsidies.

The announcement comes as a week of nationwide protests by farmers got underway.

"There are no considerations within the government to change anything," a government spokesperson said during a regular press conference in Berlin.

"In the end, a government has to decide and has to lead the way, and that can't always be to everyone's satisfaction," he added.

Skip next section Protests halt VW production line
January 8, 2024

Protests halt VW production line

The farmers' protests have brought production at a Volkswagen factory in East Frisia to a halt, with staff unable to reach their workplaces.

"Production is on hold today," a VW spokeswoman said on Monday, with access routes to the plant at Emden blocked by the protests.

It was unknown how many employees were affected by the action, which stopped the production of the company's combustion engine models. VW also makes electric cars at the site although production of these after the Christmas holiday period is only set to resume next week. 

Skip next section German vice-chancellor says 'structural change' within farming is main issue
January 8, 2024

German vice-chancellor says 'structural change' within farming is main issue

The blockade of Habeck's ferry as he returned from a vacation last week
Farmers last week blocked and tried to storm a ferry on which the German vice-chancellor was travelingImage: picture alliance/dpa/WestküstenNews

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck has called for a debate about the agricultural sector in light of the protests.

The Green politician, who is also Germany's vice-chancellor, highlighted his time as an agriculture minister in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Habeck said the real problem for farmers was the economic landscape they were operating in with heavy pressure from discounters, slaughterhouses, and dairies, as well as a fluctuating world market.

"There are good and bad years but, above all, there is a structural problem," Habeck said in a video produced by his ministry.

Farmers were often unable to pass on their production costs because prices were not being set by them. In turn, they were locked into a cycle of having to produce more, and smaller farms were gradually disappearing.

"It's called structural change. I think it's something euphemistic. It is the industrialization of agriculture."

While he said it was understandable that farmers would want to hold on to subsidies without concessions, Habeck stressed there were other answers such as fairer prices, rewards for sustainability, and direct selling to consumers.

"In my opinion, we should use the debate now to seriously and honestly to discuss exactly that," Habeck said.

Habeck and his wife were held up for several hours late on Thursday on their return from a private vacation on an island off Germany's northern coast, as roughly 250 to 300 farmers blockaded the port at which their ferry was docking.

Skip next section Police say hundreds of vehicles on Berlin boulevard
January 8, 2024

Police say hundreds of vehicles on Berlin boulevard

Tractors in front of Brandenburg Gate
Tractors lined up early Monday morning in central Berlin ahead of the planned blockade Image: Jörg Carstensen/dpa/picture alliance

Police in Berlin have given an early indication of the size of the farmers' demonstration along one of Berlin's main thoroughfares.

By 10 a.m. on Monday, police said they had counted 566 tractors, trucks, cars, vans and trailers, with another 550 people on foot on the 17th of June Street, between the Brandenburg Gate and the city's famous Victory Column. 

Skip next section Traffic blocked in central Berlin
January 8, 2024

Traffic blocked in central Berlin

In Berlin, DW correspondent Matthew Moore said the farmers are making their presence felt in the German capital, where tractors are parked in defiance near the Brandenburg Gate.

"They certainly have paralyzed this boulevard," said Moore. "This street beside me is normally bursting with traffic on a Monday morning but at the moment it's choked up with tractors and in the last few minutes we've heard their horns blaring."

"This is just one of hundreds of protests across Germany," said Moore, who explained that protests were expected to continue through the week.

"This is just one of many places where the farmers are  getting together to express really deep dissatisfaction with the government here."

Germany Farmers' Protest

Skip next section Thuringia intel chief says danger of far-right infiltration
January 8, 2024

Thuringia intel chief says danger of far-right infiltration

The head of German domestic intelligence in the state of Thuringia has warned that right-wing extremists might seek to use the farmers' protests against the federal government to their own ends. 

Stephan Kramer, president of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Thuringia, told Berlin's Tageszeitung newspaper that right-wing extremists had "steadily and consistently tried to infiltrate  any form of legitimate citizen protest."

Kramer said the aim was to establish a stronghold in civil society and "present themselves as the true representatives of the people."

It was "not really a surprise" that farmers' protests should be used, Kramer expanded. "Each emotional topic is and will be suitable for this strategy and would be used." 

In response to such comments, Joachim Rukwied, chairman of the State Farmers Association for the state of Baden Württemberg, told the broadcaster RBB Inforadio on Monday that "we will ensure we are not infiltrated" by such groups.

Skip next section NRW state leader understands protests, but urges restraint
January 8, 2024

NRW state leader understands protests, but urges restraint

Farmers stand next to a fire and a tractor on a highway on ramp
Farmers block a a highway onramp leading to Berlin on Monday morningImage: Patrick Pleul/dpa/picture alliance

The state premier of Germany's most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, Hendrik Wüst, has expressed understanding for the protests but urged farmers to stay within the law. 

Wüst, a member of the conservative Christian Democrat opposition to Chancellor Olaf Scholz's traffic light coalition, said the proposed price hikes on diesel were "not peanuts."

"It is a lot of money that is in question, and that's why I can understand that there is a protest," he told public broadcaster ZDF.
Wust said it was important that burdens were distributed "fairly" across all sectors and not placed disproportionately on one social group.

However, he also called on the demonstrators to adhere to agreements with the police and follow their guidance. 

"Democracy thrives on discourse, on speech and counter-speech," said Wüst. "We have to concede that to one other, even if we don't agree with every argument of everyone who demonstrates in this country. But everyone must abide by the rules."

"Crimes of any kind are unacceptable."

Skip next section Tractors block motorways in three German states
January 8, 2024

Tractors block motorways in three German states

Tractors block a highway
Tractors seen blocking a road in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg on Monday Image: Karsten Schmalz/Imago Images

The farmers' protests have led to the first disruptions on Monday in parts of northern and eastern Germany.

Farmers have used hundreds of tractors to block access to highways across the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. 

The farmers enjoyed support for their cause — opposing a planned reduction in diesel subsidies  — from road freight companies who are against a proposed increase in truck tolls. 

In the Cloppenburg district of northwestern Lower Saxony, a federal highway was blocked by some 40 vehicles.

Blocking federal motorway lanes represents an offense," police for the nearby town of Oldenburg posted on X, formerly Twitter. "Our colleagues will follow this consistently!"

Police in the eastern state of Saxony said several motorway entrances there were also being blocked.  

Skip next section Why are the farmers demonstrating?
January 8, 2024

Why are the farmers demonstrating?

Farmers are protesting a planned reduction in diesel subsidies announced as part of federal budgetary readjustments.

The government decided to make the cuts as part of a push to save around €60 billion ($66 billion) in funds that had been repurposed from COVID-era loans, a move which Germany's constitutional court ruled unlawful.

The German Farmers' Association (DBV) is calling for a general strike starting on Monday in protest of the measures.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that the government aims to continue pushing toward a climate-neutral future, strengthening social cohesion, and supporting Ukraine amid Russia's invasion, but will now have to do so with "significantly less money."

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