Farmer Protests Growing in France, Belgium, Germany

Paris was under “siege” on Jan. 29, as farmers blocked the major access points to the capital with their tractors and bales of hay, and many planned to stay until the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday. This spectacular action followed days of protest actions throughout the country. The new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal did offer them a few concessions, such as bureaucratic simplifications, emergency aid, a freeze on the price of farm fuel, as well as measures against price dumping by the major supermarket chains. But the farmers are demanding nothing less than an in-depth reform of the EU agricultural policy, which is deliberately oriented to downsizing the farm sector. Fishermen joined the demonstrations early on, as did taxi drivers in some cities, as well as certain categories of truck drivers.

The mobilization is having a snowball effect throughout France. Teachers unions have called for strikes and other actions this week, demanding pay raises and a stop to the layoffs. The CGT trade union of the Paris public transportation system (RATP) has announced a strike as of Feb. 5, while workers at the electricity giant EDF went on strike on Jan. 30.

Coming back to the farmers, the Solidarité et Progrès movement, headed by Jacques Cheminade, has been joining the protests in many places, distributing a “Letter to the Farmers” blasting the “current economic system that condemns our agriculture to a deliberate euthanasia in the name of making financial profit”. Beyond the immediate demands made by the farmer unions, S&P proposes other measures that need to be taken, such as curbing the power of “agro-holdings”, banning speculation on food and drink, organizing a moratorium on farm debts and their reorganization.

Our farmers, the Letter goes on, “need a fair parity price that allows them to live decently, and to finance their investments, without being strangled by their lenders”. It is also important for “the farmers of the world not to confront one another in a financial Wild West controlled by corrupt sheriffs”.

In neighboring Belgium, thousands of tractors also took to the streets, hitting in particular the main highway access to Brussels. The actions are expected to culminate in a rally in the capital as the EU heads of state and government are gathered there.

In Germany as well, protests are continuing in more decentralized forms, as farmers begin to see themselves as the avant-garde of a broader revolt of the mittelstand, from which several branches endorsed and joined past actions, including truck and taxi drivers, bakers and shop owners. At a regional meeting in the city of Stollberg in Saxony, activists of the LSV organization together with local mayors agreed on a petition for which they will now gather signatures. It calls for the protection of the transport sector, abolition of disproportionate taxation for all small and medium sized enterprises, and highlighting the role of farming and the productive sector in school curricula.

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