• Farm Protests All Over Europe - Are They Successful?

    February 12, 2024
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    What unites them, what divides them?

    Image by Leonhard Lenz

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    This past week farmers have been protesting all over Europe again, blocking capital cities, ports, airports, border-crossings. What had been started by German farmers a couple of weeks ago (and saw them chasing the German Minister of Economics back to the island where he was vacationing) appears to spread like a wildfire over a number of European countries: France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Greece, Romania.

    Who is coordinating these protests? Are European farmers uniting? Are their protests successful?

    Remarkably enough, whilst farm protests are inspiring one another, this is a highly decentralized, grass-roots movement. As this article will show, the issues that the farmers are protesting are often highly specific to their respective countries. However, as I will also highlight, there are universal, much bigger issues that have the potential to spawn a protest movement that will go much beyond farming.

    Very country specific issues - quick overview by country

    First let’s look at the country-specific issues that literally drive farmers to the streets (for once, Politico offers a good overview):

    Germany: The main issue that since the beginning of the year had been driving German farmers to the street, has been a rise in Diesel fuel taxes, something that so far farmers had been exempted from. Tellingly, both the government and the mainstream media have been framing this as the farmers protesting the withdrawal of a “subsidy” - by that logic every tax that we are not (yet) paying is a subsidy, that the government can either “generously” grant or withdraw.

    Belgium: Belgian farmers were protesting the low prices for food (relative to their costs), something that they blame on cheap imports (we are going to come to this issue, especially with regards to Ukraine) and high environmental regulations

    Greece: The Greek farmers protests seems to have been similarly related to tax discounts for energy, debt relief and some government aid for recent flood damages

    France: Amongst many other issues of the EU’s multipronged agenda to target farmers for their climate agenda (using less fertilizer, letting more fields lie fallow for longer, mandating crop rotation) the French farmers are protesting the influence of various free trade agreements, especially the Mercosur Agreement that is currently being finalized. Also, there is the issue of the EU having opened itself up to cheap agricultural imports from Ukraine as part of their war aid to Ukraine

    Poland: A giveaway of what the Polish farmer protests are about is where they take place. Yes, at the Polish-Ukrainian border-crossings - so the issue of cheap Ukrainian food imports is a big deal to the Polish farmers, too.

    Romania: Same picture as above, farmers and hauliers protested high prices and cheap imports

    Netherlands: The recent Dutch farmers protests appear to have been in solidarity with their European brethren and the issues listed above- whilst at the same time the Dutch farmers were the ones who led the most prominent of all farm protests in 2022 in response to the Dutch government’s nitrogen crack-down, that saw the government threatening to shut down / (forcibly) buy out farms in order to dramatically bring down nitrogen levels.

    UK: The most recent farm protests took place in the UK - the main driver here as well is the issue of cheap imports

    Green vs Technocrate ideologies and a little greed

    Whilst there may be some merit in the scientific claims laid out in the Guardian nitrogen piece , the suddenness and vehemence of the Dutch government response even shooting at tractors) led many to question ulterior motives: either “Green” ideology with fantasies to “rewild” much of former farmland or technocrate ideology paired with greed á la “why should such a densely populated country use that much agricultural land, wouldn’t it be better to develop that land for housing?”

    Farming out farming to Ukraine?

    If one sees Europe’s policies vis-a-vis its own farmers and its total commitment to defend Ukraine's borders - whilst Europe’s borders remain wide open - (hey, American readers does this sound familiar?) - you start to wonder if somewhere in some lofty think tanks / NGOs (say, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change or the World Economic Forum) someone has dreamed up a truly globalist division of labor. What about Western Europe farming out (if you pardon the pun) its farming to Ukraine and instead focussing on whatever industries its “Green Energy” revolution can sustain whilst “resettling” “vulnerable” populations from all around the world in its already densely populated lands? As usual with technocrate reasoning, from a mere efficiency point of view it might make some sense - vast open spaces in Ukraine (all the more empty since 8 million Ukrainians, 20% of the population has fled), all that rich black soil that everyone talks about - it could probably feed Western Europe. As usual, as with all efficiency arguments, this ignores resilience considerations - what if for whatever reason there is a political argument with Ukraine and grain does not get shipped or one really bad harvest occurs?

    What have the farmers achieved? Are they winning? It depends…Soros Open Society Foundation helps shifting the narrative

    This is a mixed bag as the protests are highly localized.

    The French farmers, probably the most adept at such protests, appear to have scored a victory - with the French government granting some concessions vis-a-vis fuel taxes, imports on certain goods treated with certain pesticides and stating that the Mercosur free-trade deal will be blocked.

    The German farmers, however, seem to have lost their argument vis-a-vis the tax exemption on diesel - this “subsidy” will be subsequently phased out. This is in part due to the fact that the German government was able to shift the conversation from the farm protests to a hysteria about imaginary neo-nazi conspiracies. To that end the government’s domestic intelligence services appear to have infiltrated a meeting of AfD politicians and various activists - and then seem to have proceeded to leaking the conversations on “remigration” to the press via a “investigative journalist NGO” called Correctiv, that, amongst others, is funded by Soros Open Society Foundation. Large “anti-fascist” demonstrations organized by the government against the AfD opposition party (hey, aren’t pro-government and anti-opposition demonstrations not usually the preserve of authoritarian systems?) followed in every major German city.

    Similarly, the Dutch farmers appear to have, for now, lost their fight against the nitrogen-based farm-closures / buyouts - the Dutch government policy appears to remain unchanged on this.

    As of the writing of this article it is not yet clear how successful the farmers in the other European countries were and the situation appears to be changing daily. At CD-Media we would encourage any readers with knowledge of the farm sectors in their countries to reach out to us with their takes on what is happening on the ground.

    Prediction: the farm protests are far from done. The issues for the farmers remain the same as the challenges for the wider civil society at large

    As this article has shown, whilst superficially the farm protests were specific to farming and often specific to an individual country, there is plenty of overlap with other political struggles of contemporary politics.

    At the root of the farm protests, just as with the Canadian truckers, lies a backlash against ever increasing centralization of political power. It is therefore not surprising that the protests are led by the most independent elements in society - in the case of the truckers highly independent solopreneurs with a truck, in the case of the farmers those who control their own food production and overall are self-sufficient in every respect (if you have ever been on a farm, you will be amazed how many things farmers can / have to fix, from (re)wiring water pumps, and complex mechanical and electronic gear - few things seem to be beyond their ken.).

    They are the antithesis of the atomized masses of the “you will own nothing and you will love it” (see other interesting WEF musings / predictions here) mindset, who are increasingly dependent on government help.

    Furthermore, it also symbolizes a backlash of the “somewhere” people, the ones actually wedded to their soil and country against a highly mobile “anywhere”-deracinated elite. Such elites constantly are advancing their globalized dreams, usually the umpteenth international treaty or trade agreement (that, once agreed, are somewhat difficult to influence for local politicians). The resistance to the Mercosur treatment against the usual “win-win” logic of such deals (Remember NAFTA - how did that work out for the Rust Belt?) is just one example of many. Whilst generally free trade has benefited the countries involved in it, it might not work for some key industries that should not be shipped abroad in their entirety.

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    The genie is out of the bottle

    Whatever the immediate results, successes or even failures of the protests may be - every other protest movement by now has understood the powerful images: some 50 tractors or so can block a major food distribution hub that feeds 12 million people . It will be interesting (and in some cases worrisome?) which other sectors / segments of society might soon apply this lesson).

    One thing is clear: a spanner has been thrown into the government’s wheels and farmers cannot be as easily intimidated as other sectors. However, another lesson has been learned from the governments - the German government, in an uncharacteristic display of competence, skillfully shifted the conversation (that what a public broadcast with 10 billion Euros mostly made up of mandatory fees buys you) away from its many failures. Both are developments to be mindful of in future government-dissident clashes.


    Christian Geib

    Christian studied law in Germany, the Netherlands and the US (LL.M. Stanford). He has worked in retail, hospitality, translation, government (such as the European Commission), IT and is currently working as an IT/business consultant. He is a reserve officer of the German Armed Forces. He is particularly interested in the architecture of political systems and international regimes, recruitment and education of elites, how narratives shape political reality and everything related to currencies.
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