Why are European farmers so dang angry?

You might think of farmers as folksy straw-hat wearers who largely keep to themselves and till the land. But, when they have a reason to, those agrarians can cause anarchy.

Driving the news: Earlier this week, European farmers flooded the streets of Brussels with tractors and burning hay bales, interrupting EU talks around a Ukraine funding package to express their dismay about policies and initiatives they feel are hurting their profession. 

  • Belgian, French, Spanish, and Italian farmers joined the protests, which were mostly peaceful, aside from a contingent that lit fireworks and threw eggs and stones.

Catch-up: EU farmers have protested sporadically in recent years spurred by concerns over their livelihoods, but things escalated last month in France (of course). French courts opened Pandora’s box after repealing a policy that let sugar beet growers use an EU-banned pesticide.

  • French farmers then hit the streets to air all their grievances, and protests spread into Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Greece, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and Belgium.

Why it’s happening: While complaints vary from country to country, they fall into three broad buckets that farmers feel are making farming harder and threatening food security. 

  • Environmental policies: Farmers are upset about pesticide bans, stricter land-use regulations, and the phase-out of diesel subsidies tied to emission-reduction goals.

  • Foreign imports: The EU waived duties on Ukrainian food imports, pissing off Eastern European farmers; the French are upset over South American imports.

  • Rising costs: Farmers are being walloped by higher prices on basically everything (including transport, energy, and fertilizer) and have had difficulty applying for subsidies.

Why it matters: Green initiatives and high costs are impacting farmers everywhere, including Canada. European discontent could travel, just as it did in 2022 when some Canadian farmers protested in solidarity with Dutch farmers over a crackdown on farm emissions.

What’s next: The EU Commission proposed limiting some Ukrainian imports and exempted this year from a mandate to keep 4% of their land unused. In France, two major farm unions called off protests after new government measures, but threatened to restart them at the important Paris International Agricultural Show if the feds don’t keep their promises.—QH