Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 13, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home International Farmer protests rocking the European Union

Farmer protests rocking the European Union

Daniel Grayshon discussed the current tensions between farmers and the EU, due to the new green policies and the war going on in Ukraine.
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Image: European Commission (Christophe Licoppe) via Wikimedia Commons

Across Europe, eggs have been flying and tractors seen spraying manure at French police as farmers across the EU have turned out to protest strict new agriculture laws, culminating last Saturday with the French president being heckled at a farmers’ market. Grievances raised by the demonstrators, also seen taking to the streets of Belgium and Greece, include squeezed profits and the EU’s latest decision to withhold farmers’ subsidies – including support for organic farming and afforestation – for farms not setting at least 4% of their land aside for environmental purposes.

To many, this is just another green quota gone too far: despite many farmers voicing a desire to adopt sustainable farming practices and reduce their carbon footprints, the ability of individual farms to meet these targets (without government support) is shrinking as crop yields and land profitability continues to decrease across much of Europe due to climate change.

To many, this is just another green quota gone too far: despite many farmers voicing a desire to adopt sustainable farming practices and reduce their carbon footprints, the ability of individual farms to meet these targets is shrinking.

Another possible factor fanning these recent flames has been the steady increase in produce seeping out of Ukraine and reappearing on European shelves. The latest stage of the devastating conflict, beginning in 2022, saw a collapse in exports from one of the continent’s largest food producers as Russia attacked many of Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure. The resulting shortages put an extra strain on EU farmers to satisfy grocery demand in their home countries while prices soared.

Ukrainian grain exports resuming in any volume is therefore bound to drive down food prices elsewhere in Europe, causing a shift to lower profits for EU farms across the board that the EU is in no position to cushion; public debt across the bloc is only slightly down on its record levels in 2021. With budgets so tight, it is perhaps no surprise that we are seeing the bar for qualifying for government grants start to rise.

But the current problems don’t simply lie with Ukraine, nor perhaps even stop with the war; Europe’s rising farmer discontent has been attracting global notice for the past 5 years, with the Dutch government’s ambitious plans to half livestock numbers also sparking major protests since 2019.

But perhaps there is a solution to all this, a simple one. Both farmers and the European Commission have expressed frustration at the lack of dialogue between the two sides, stressing the need to improve consultation on future rules. With growing dissatisfaction at the EU’s perceived failure in safeguarding members’ agricultural needs, improved communication could be key to preventing tempers boiling over in future. For now, however, it seems likely European governments will continue to weather the storm – and the eggs.

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