Why are farmers across Europe protesting?

Thursday 1 February 2024

Farmers' protests have mounted across the EU to force leaders to do more in helping them with taxes and rising costs.

Here are some of the issues that have prompted the protest movement across the bloc and in individual countries.

Why are farmers protesting?

In most countries, farmers say they are not paid enough, are choked by taxes, red tape and excessive environmental rules and blame cheap food imports.

Why are imports a problem?

Large amounts of imports from Ukraine, for which the EU has waived quotas and duties since Russia's invasion, and renewed negotiations to conclude a trade deal between the EU and South American bloc Mercosur have fanned discontent about unfair competition in sugar, grain and meat.

The farmers resent the imports because they say they put pressure European prices while not meeting environmental standards imposed on EU farmers.

The European Commission on Wednesday proposed to limit agricultural imports from Ukraine by introducing an "emergency brake" for the most sensitive products - poultry, eggs and sugar - but producers say the volume would still be too high.

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Why is fallow land an issue?

Farmers also take issue with new EU subsidy rules, such as a requirement to leave 4% of farmland fallow.

They denounce excessive bureaucracy, which French farmers say their government compounds by over-complicating implementation.

The Commission this week responded by exempting EU farmers for 2024 from the requirement to keep some of their land fallow - not using it for a period of time - while still receiving EU farm support payments, but they would need to instead grow crops without applying pesticides.

Impact of diesel fuel costs

In Germany and France, the EU's biggest agricultural producers, farmers have railed against plans to end subsidies or tax breaks on agricultural diesel. Greek farmers want a tax on diesel to be reduced.

Paris and Berlin have both relented to the pressure and rowed back on their plans.

Breakdown of factors prompting protests country by country:

France

Onerous EU red tape

Diesel prices

More support to shore up incomes. They say a government drive to bring down food inflation has left many producers unable to cover high costs for energy, fertiliser and transport.

Access to irrigation

Criticism over animal welfare and use of pesticides

Belgium

EU requirement to leave 4% of land fallow

Cheap imports

Subsidies favouring larger farms

Poland

Cheap imports from Ukraine

EU regulation

Spain

"Suffocating bureaucracy" drawn up in Brussels that erode the profitability of crops - Trade deals that open the doors to cheap imports PORTUGAL- Insufficient state aid, subsidy cuts

Heavy red tape - The caretaker government has announced an emergency aid package worth 500 million euros, including 200 million euros to mitigate the impact of a long-running drought

Romania

Protests in mid-January were mainly against the high cost of diesel

Expensive insurance rates

EU environmental regulations

Cheap imports from Ukraine

The government has acted to increase diesel subsidies, address insurance rates and expedite subsidy payments

Greece

Demands for higher subsidies and faster compensation for crop damage and livestock lost in 2023 floods

Diesel tax and surging electricity bills - Falling state and EU subsidies

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