Farmers in Europe Win Some Concessions, but Demand More
Besieged by 1,399 tractors that had rolled into Brussels on the morning of Feb. 1, the European Commission indicated its intention to grant a few concessions. Farmers will be allowed to cultivate the 4% of their farmland that the EU had previously ordered must remain fallow, and to sell their production off this land, without losing the planned agricultural support. In addition, the Commission proposes new “safeguards” to limit the amount of agricultural imports from Ukraine allowed in tariff-free, including products such as poultry, eggs, sugar, and grain. When that was not enough to calm the farmers, Ursula von der Leyen finally announced on Feb. 6 that she will withdraw the regulation providing for halving the use of pesticides by 2030.
These concessions are far too minor to convince the protesters to end their actions. Spokesmen from farmers’ associations in several countries have made clear they demand a more profound overhaul of EU agricultural policies, and will not give up before achieving that goal. The protests will thus continue, and have also hit new targets: seaports, such as Zeebrugge in Belgium, have been blocked by tractorcades, while seaports and inland ports have been targeted in Germany, as well as the storage warehouses of major supermarkets. Geographically too, the unrest is spreading. Portuguese tractors blocked an important cross-border point at the border with Spain, while Spanish farmer activists announced a nationwide strike for Feb. 6 and 1,500 tractors converged on Rome the same day. In France, after obtaining significant financial promises from the government, as well as restrictions on the distribution chains and the “pausing” of the Ecophyto plan on pesticides, the main organizations have called off the protests, but that could change very quickly.
Very importantly, the farmers everywhere are beginning to address the interests of other sectors of the economy as well, in particular the SMEs, and to target the big cartels behind Brussels, demanding their say on prices for agricultural products be broken. What needs to be emphasized is that the EU’s Green Deal is in fact a strategy to enrich the big cartels and latifundists, at the expense of family farmers and consumers.
Faced with the prospect of major setbacks for the EU Green Deal, from now until the European Parliament elections in June, 50 leading companies belonging to the German Foundation Climate Economy published on Jan. 27 an open letter urging the German government not to walk out of the Green Deal agenda, but to ensure its implementation for years to come, irrespective of the farmers momentum. Signatories of the open letter include: Thyssen-Krupp, Salzgitter Steel, Aurubis (copper), Strabag (road construction), Bilfinger (construction), IKEA, Miele (household technology), E.on and EnBW (leading utilities), Frankfurt Airport, Hermes (logistics), BNP Paribas, Union Investment, Triodos Bank.
IMF Director Kristalina Georgieva joined in, warning governments and the Commission against making concessions to the farmers that they would sooner or later “regret”. And the British Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) advised governments to co-opt the farmers’ ferment by conducting a dialogue with them, but not on the Green Deal’s fundamentals. The food cartels and banking interests behind that agenda have good reason to fear the loss of their trillions-of-dollars-strong “sustainability” project.