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EU Faces Pressure to Defuse Mounting Anger as Farmers Protest Across Europe

Europe’s farmers are speaking out against policies they say are contradictory, unfair and leave them worried for the future. Roads have been blocked across France, manure and agricultural waste dropped outside public offices, and bales of hay spread through fast food restaurants. It started last year when farmers began unscrewing road signs and putting them back upside down. They sometimes added the slogan ‘on marche sur les têtes’ meaning ‘we’re walking on our heads’ in reference to their world being turned upside down. France’s biggest farmers union, FNSEA, says protests will continue “as long as necessary.” French farmers’ anger stems from a complicated mesh of different policies and funding cuts. Agricultural diesel was set to get more expensive as subsidies were removed, farmers were facing an extra €47 million per year in fees for water consumption and they say complicated regulations have made it difficult to know what they can or cannot do. They also object to bans on pesticides and herbicides driven by the EU’s Green Deal and a new EU-wide treaty that could see the import of more Brazilian and Argentinian beef. Farmers claim competing with these countries is extremely hard as they aren’t bound by the same strict rules on animal welfare. Swathes of contradictory policies, they say, leave the agricultural industry attempting to reduce farming’s environmental impact while also increasing food production. With a declining number of people working to produce the food needed to feed France, many are concerned about the future. Some of their calls were headed in December when the government suspended an increase in fees for using diesel and also suspended the ban on using glyphosate in attempts to appease the protesters. The French government has said it has “heard their call” and will be making announcements in the days to come. Last year, Dutch farmers blocked roads, dumped manure in the streets and protested outside politicians' houses over regulations to cut nitrogen emissions. In 2019, the Netherlands’ highest administrative court ruled that the nitrogen permit system was failing to prevent emissions from harming specially protected nature reserves known as the Natura 2000 network. Though the initial ruling wasn’t headline news, the government soon said it needed to take “drastic measures” to rectify the situation - including buying out and closing livestock farms. The sudden announcement of cuts left farmers feeling as though they weren’t being fairly treated. They had already cut nitrogen emissions significantly in the last 30 years and funding for rural areas had been reduced in favor of urban investment. Protests led to the founding of the right-wing political party Boer Burger Beweging (BBB) which promised farmers more of a say in agricultural policy. In 2023, BBB won the provincial elections and, following the Senate election, ended up as the party with the highest number of seats in the Dutch Senate. Anger has also been growing in Germany over plans to phase out fuel subsidies worth up to €3,000 a year for the average business. Long-term resentment over the environmental policies has only added fuel to the fire. Farmers have been taking to the streets since December and recently lined the streets of Berlin. Protests have spread to Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. Spain and Italy are also poised to join the movement. Tensions continue to grow, and agriculture is setting up to be a major issue across the EU ahead of the European Parliament elections in June.

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