German farmers have employed tractors to block roads across the country, initiating a week-long protest against proposed cuts to agricultural subsidies.
The move has sparked concerns among ministers about potential far-right involvement. Tractor convoys, adorned with banners declaring “No beer without farmers” and some displaying posters from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, gathered on roads in sub-zero temperatures, creating disruptions in multiple locations, including border crossings with France.
The epicenter of the protest unfolded in Berlin, where tractors honked their horns, blocking the main avenue leading to the Brandenburg Gate, signaling the commencement of a planned week of actions. Police reported road blockages and highway disruptions nationwide. This protest follows a trend of industrial actions across various sectors, including transport and education, amid wage negotiations exacerbated by Germany’s economic challenges and rising household prices.
Upcoming strikes include a three-day walkout by rail workers seeking a pay increase to offset months of high inflation. Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck expressed concern about fringe groups co-opting the protests, citing extremist sentiments and nationalist symbols circulating within the demonstrations.
Farmers argue that the government’s intention to end two tax breaks, saving them approximately 900 million euros ($980 million) annually, would threaten their livelihoods. The opposition conservatives and members within Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party have expressed support for the farmers’ cause.
December saw thousands of protesters descending on Berlin, blocking roads and resorting to symbolic acts like dumping manure on the streets. In response, the government partially retreated from the subsidy cuts, deciding to maintain a discount on vehicle tax for farmers while phasing out a diesel subsidy over several years. Farmers argue that these adjustments fall short, prompting the government to consider further changes.
As tensions escalate, a government spokesperson emphasized the challenging task of balancing decisions to lead the country. A recent poll by public broadcaster NTV indicates strong public support for the farmers’ protest, with 91 percent of respondents expressing justification for their actions. The situation remains fluid as both farmers and the government navigate the complexities of subsidy reform.