Europe's Farmers Just Keep Winning

Tom Finnerty15 Feb, 2024 3 Min Read
Says it all.

First came the Dutch farmers. And after their unprecedented successes in combatting the Green Establishment in their country -- their newly founded political party won big in regional elections, eventually forced the resignation of their country's prime minister, and looks like it will end up as part of a right-wing coalition government running the country -- farmers throughout Europe have started to follow suit. Britain's Telegraph reports that "Tractors are or have been on the march in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Belgium" and beyond.

Farmer protests in France have reportedly provoked a “wind of panic” in the cabinet of President Emmanuel Macron. Macron, concerned about the potential for the farmers to become another gilets jaunes movement (a reference to the "yellow vest" protests which derailed the early years of his presidency) instructed prime minister Gabriel Attal to making calming the farmers his highest priority. Speaking at a cattle farm far outside of Paris the other day, Attal said, “We will put agriculture above everything else.... You wanted to send a message, and I’ve received it loud and clear.”

In Germany, farmers piled heaps of manure in front of the local constituency offices of Bundestag members in parties in the ruling coalition government in response to Chancellor Olaf Schultz's announcement that his government would cut diesel subsidies for farmers as part of their net-zero plan, while repealing a variety of tax breaks for farmers as well. Like the Dutch before them, they also "slow-walked" highways and shut down major city centers with their tractors. Eventually Schultz pulled up -- the tax breaks were restored and the diesel subsidies would be phased out over the course of several years. Still, tensions remain high.

Italian farmers are enraged, both as Italians and as farmers, about the continent-wide push to force people to eat lab-grown meat and use cricket-flour to make pasta. Italy's prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, agrees with them, but the farmer's are rightly aiming their ire at Brussels, which is behind the net-zero push generally, and is subsidizing the food transformation specifically.

Though it hasn't made such a dent in the papers on this side of the pond, this is all a big deal, not least because European elections are coming up, and there is a real concern among the governing classes that this could turn European politics on its ear. How concerned exactly? This concerned:

EU drops net zero demands after farmers’ protests
Brussels removes order to reduce emissions linked to agriculture after mounting anger across Europe

The European Union has caved in to angry protests from farmers and cut a target to slash agricultural emissions as part of the bloc’s net zero drive. A demand to reduce nitrogen, methane and other emissions linked to farming by almost a third has been removed from a wider Brussels plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 90 per cent by 2040. On Tuesday, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, also proposed withdrawing the EU’s plan to halve the use of pesticides, calling it a “symbol of polarisation.” “Our farmers deserve to be listened to,” she told the European Parliament.... A recommendation urging EU citizens to eat less meat was also removed from the plan.

Now, this is only a partial retreat. The article, from the Telegraph, quotes von der Leyen as saying that farmers are ultimately going to have to accept that "agriculture needs to move to a more sustainable model of production." And net-zero is the closest thing that official Europe has to a religion these days, and as Europeans well know, religions don't disappear overnight.

That said, this victory should not be minimized. A climb down of this magnitude couldn't have been foreseen even a year or two ago. The farmers have drawn first blood in defense of their (and our) way of life. And, to paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger's aptly named character Dutch Schaefer, if net-zero can bleed, it can be killed.

Tom Finnerty writes from New England and Ontario.


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