German farmers block roads to protest scrapping of subsidies

Peter Oliver in Berlin


‌Thousands of German farmers brought roads in Europe's largest economy to a standstill on Monday. They are protesting against plans by the government in Berlin to scrap subsidies on their industry, including benefits that allowed agricultural diesel to be bought at a cheaper price.

‌They kicked off a week of nationwide protests by bringing the center of Berlin to a halt, with convoys of tractors and trucks lining many of the main roads, causing major traffic disruption during rush hour.

The farmers are angry over government plans to phase out agricultural subsidies as it attempts to fix a hole in its finances.


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Jörg Pfandlo, an agricultural worker from Brandenburg, told CGTN that his industry has been squeezed too far.‌

He said: "The farmers have to ensure that food is there for the population. But in the end, it's made so difficult for them, now with the cuts and the like, that they're basically scraping by at the subsistence level and are basically no longer able to make it economically viable. And at some point, the money runs out."

‌Chancellor Olaf Scholz's coalition was dealt a blow last year as its budget plans were thrown into disarray by the country's highest court.

The three-party coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats were forced into months-long negotiations to try and find cuts that could plug an $18 billion hole that remains in the country's finances.

‌The latest draft budget for 2024 sees tax breaks for agriculture being scrapped and plans for a diesel subsidy for farmers phased out over several years.

‌A previous protest by farmers saw the government u-turn on plans to get rid of subsidies immediately.


Tightening belts

‌Vice Chancellor and German Economy Minister Robert Habeck addressed the farmers on social media, saying that belts needed to be tightened and pleading for understanding.

‌"Because of the cost pressure, we in the German government have shown goodwill to the farmers," explained Habeck. "We will keep an essential part of the subsidies being discussed now: the tax exemption for agricultural vehicles and the step-by-step subsidy cuts for agricultural diesel. That way, it will be more fair. 

"However, we can't do without it altogether. The pressure to save following the Constitutional Court's ruling exists. We were forced to save billions of euros ad hoc."

German farmers protest in Berlin against the cut of vehicle tax subsidies. /Nadja Wohlleben/Reuters
German farmers protest in Berlin against the cut of vehicle tax subsidies. /Nadja Wohlleben/Reuters

German farmers protest in Berlin against the cut of vehicle tax subsidies. /Nadja Wohlleben/Reuters

‌There is growing anger brewing around the protests. Farmers' unions have called on protesters not to target politicians' homes. Vice Chancellor Habeck said that there was a risk of extremist groups piggybacking on the farmer's grievances.

‌"There are calls circulating with fantasies of a coup. Extremist groups are forming, nationalist symbols are being openly displayed," he warned.

A large demonstration in Munich saw thousands of people gathered in the city center. In Bremen in northwest Germany, a VW car plant had to halt production because workers' access to the factory was blocked.

‌More protests by farmers are planned, culminating in a large-scale action next Monday (January 15) in Berlin. From Wednesday (January 10), Germany will also face a three-day national rail strike to compound transport chaos across the country further.

German farmers block roads to protest scrapping of subsidies

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