Anger among European farmers has been boiling over for months now, spreading from Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania, to the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Ireland. Protests in the form of tractor rallies, road blockades, cow marches, and scarecrow standoffs have been staged against what farmers view as excessive bureaucracy and unfair competition from Ukraine that has raised costs and squeezed farmer incomes.
Protests could spread even further in the coming weeks with Spain and Italy now poised to join the movement, and European leaders seemingly unable to put out the growing fire. As tensions continue to grow, agriculture is shaping up to be a major issue leading up to the European Parliament elections in June. Right-wing parties are heavily leaning into the issue to galvanize voters into supporting populist candidates. Below are more details about the web of factors fanning the discontent:
Income Squeeze: Farmers complain of ever-lower incomes pressured by rising production costs and declining subsidies. Some farmers, including in Poland and Romania, also point to “unfair” competition from Ukraine and denounce EU tax-free trade with the country, saying that it’s undercutting their livelihoods.
High Costs of Compliance: New EU regulations aimed at environmental protection often require significant investments in new technologies and practices, adding further financial burden.
EU’s Green Goals: The EU’s “Green Deal” sets ambitious targets for reducing emissions and protecting biodiversity. While farmers acknowledge the importance of sustainability, they feel some implementation plans like pesticide bans and nitrogen emission caps are overly restrictive. Farmers also say these more expensive farming practices need to come with subsidies or at least fair pricing for the food they produce.
Bureaucracy and red tape: Farmers complain about complex and sometimes conflicting EU regulations that add administrative burdens and take time away from their core work. They say navigating the paperwork is too demanding, especially for smaller farms. Farmers also complain that complicated regulations have made it difficult to know what they can or cannot do.
These issues vary in prominence across different EU countries and regions. French farmers, for example, are particularly concerned about low income and regulations, while Dutch farmers have focused heavily on nitrogen restrictions. The EU is trying to address farmers’ concerns. The European Commission has held talks with agricultural organizations and is considering measures like financial aid packages and adjustments to certain policies. Individual countries, such as Germany and France, are considering various responses, such as smaller subsidy cuts.