Foundations of a mega crisis: Why are farmers across Europe protesting?

Insufficient pay, EU regulations and unfair competition from cheap imports are some concerns plaguing the farmers in France and other European countries

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 07 February 2024

The last few weeks of January 2024 saw French farmers parking tractors across highways near Paris. They dumped manure, let the produce rot in front of government buildings and set hay bales on fire to partly block access to Toulouse airport. Even though this came to a halt on February 1, it has led to more protests across Europe including Germany, Belgium and other European countries. So, why are the farmers protesting and what does it point to?

France has been the European Union (EU)’s largest agricultural producer. Yet, the country’s agriculture sector has seen a huge decline in recent times. Insufficient pay, EU regulations and unfair competition from cheap imports are some concerns plaguing farmers in France and other European countries.

Global inflation, coupled with tougher environmental standards both in the EU and in France, have led to consumers searching for cheaper products. This has forced French farmers to sell their products for little to no profit. Eurostat data shows that the prices farmers get for their agricultural products peaked in 2022 but has been declining since then — dropping nearly nine per cent on average between the third quarter of 2022 and the same period in 2023.

The EU also has a pending trade agreement with Mercosur, the economic bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, that would reduce tariffs on imports, especially agricultural products.

However, according to the farmers, this trade agreement and others the EU has with Chile, New Zealand, Kenya, and Ukraine — countries that don’t have the same strict agricultural production standards as the EU — increase unfair competition due to low prices. There have also been rising debts and suicides among farmers.

France has emerged victorious presently, with its Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announcing a series of concessions. This includes an agreement not to import agricultural products that use pesticides banned in the EU as well as new financial subsidies and tax breaks.

The ongoing turmoil has converged with a slowdown in all the major economies of Europe, creating the foundations for a mega crisis. German farmers are protesting against the government’s plan to cut diesel subsidies while farmers in the Netherlands are protesting against the government’s environmental plans, aimed at reducing livestock population to cut down emissions.

The agriculture workers have taken their frustration to the European Union headquarters in Brussels, leaving the EU rushing to address concerns ahead of European Parliament elections this year. While governments have granted concessions, some farmers say that it is not enough and are calling for continued action.

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