Anger is spreading across Europe as farmers have left their farms to take to the streets to protest climate policies put into place by the EU. Earlier in the week French farmers took to the streets to protest the rising cost of fuel and the increased burden put on them by government policies aimed at reducing nitrogen and carbon emissions. Before that, German and Dutch farmers were angered by more government regulations and reduction of subsidies.
The EU has spent around £55bn to revamp its Common Agricultural Policy, where more than 70% of that payment has gone directly to farmers as a fallback option. The revamp includes 4% of arable land not being used for productive methods, a 20% reduction in fertilizer usage, and a required crop rotation. Farmers argue that their crops will no longer be competitive with imports from countries that have very little restriction on agriculture.
When the Russian invasion of Ukraine occurred, the EU allowed Ukraine to sell their crops across the European market. The average Ukrainian farm is 2,741 acres where the average European farm is 103 acres. The mismatch in size and production left European farmers unable to compete with imported crops.
The situation for the farmers in Europe is complex. Eastern European farms are suffering due to their competition with Ukraine. They are angry at both the EU and the Ukrainians for flooding their country with products that they cannot compete with. In Western Europe, drought has forced many governments to impose water restrictions to prevent overuse. There are also reductions in subsidies and new policies that would damage farms production numbers.
Individual governments are also adding to the conflict by creating policies that overlap with EU restrictions. In Germany the government is trying to phase out diesel subsidies for farmers who primarily use it for their farm equipment. This come amidst a large spike in price across the continent.
EU members are working on discussing sustainable solutions to try and end the protests. The topics they are hoping to cover will be ending the Ukrainian grain imports, relaxing some of the new policies, and removing some of the paperwork that is seen as a punishment to farmers.
In March, Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk has announced he will meet with Ukrainian representatives to try and find a solution about the transport and selling of grain in Europe. The EU has taken note and will likely follow suit.
The talking phase is not helping the farmers case. Some believe that it should be an election issue due to the problems it could create for Europe down the road. The European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen has said “there is increasing division and polarization” but hopes that the dialogue between agricultural groups and EU officials will help ease some of the anger.
The protest look to spread further into Spain and Italy as governments have imposed strict water restrictions amid an already lengthy drought. The meeting between the European Commission and farmers unions is set to occur soon to try and avoid the spread of protests, but farmers and politicians alike do not believe it will be enough.