Fields of Dissent - Farmers Challenge Europe’s Green Deal

7 min readMar 13, 2024

Izabela Mońska


Last week, there was a lot of talk about farmers’ protests that took place in most European Union member states, such as Germany, France, Italy, Greece, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Why? This is an expression of their opposition to low prices of agricultural products, the European Green Deal, and cheap imports of agricultural products from outside the European Union.

Farmers actively show their opposition to challenges that may negatively impact European agriculture. At the end of last year, a gradually increasing wave of protests could be observed in the EU member states. As we mentioned earlier, the reasons for this behavior are rising production costs, which lead to a decline in profits.

Moreover, the armed conflict in Ukraine is affecting agriculture. As a result of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, exports of Ukrainian agricultural products to the European Union increased. Moreover, the blockade of seaports (the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Azov) prompted the attacked country to look for new export routes. This led to an increase in Ukrainian products on the Polish (but not only) market, which was tantamount to a decline in the prices of Polish products.

Let’s start from the beginning — the European Green Deal, what is it?

The future of Europe depends to a large extent on the conditions, state, and quality of conditions on Earth. A climate goal has been set for member states, which is based on achieving climate neutrality by 2050. In this way, EU countries have committed themselves to fulfilling the assumptions arising from the Paris Agreement.

The European Green Deal is a package of laws intended to put the EU on the path of ecological transformation. All this is to achieve one main goal — climate neutrality by 2050. The European Green Deal was launched by the Commission in December 2019 and the European Council noted this at its December meeting.

This package of laws emphasizes that achieving the main climate goal requires a holistic and cross-sectoral approach in which all relevant policy areas contribute to its implementation. Climate, environment, energy, transport, business, agriculture, and sustainable finance are just some of the related initiatives in the package.

What changes occurred in the Green Deal that had such an impact on farmers?

First of all, one of the assumptions of the Green Deal was to leave 4% of lands fallow. Why? The quality of soil in the EU could be better. Therefore, if a certain percentage of land were not used for agriculture naturally, its quality would gradually improve. The Green Deal for farmers works in such a way that the EU sets specific climate goals. Then each member state, as part of the common agricultural policy, is obliged to introduce restrictions that are, in turn, adapted to each country.

This was met with great disapproval among farmers. Fallowing is intended to restore and preserve mines in fields. Landscape elements that collect and retain water: ditches, ponds, trees and groves, coastal marshy zones near watercourses — explained Izabela Zygmunt in one of the interviews for the portal. Why is this so important? Preserving landscape elements protects crops against natural threats such as drought. Taking into account the farmers’ protests, the EC is ready to make concessions. This obligation is to be abolished and will be treated as a voluntary action for which the farmer will be rewarded.

Another idea that farmers did not like is the idea of ​​reducing the use of pesticides when growing crops. Pesticides are nothing more than chemicals that protect plants against fungi, insects, pests, and weeds. The EU wants to reduce the most invasive pesticides by 50%. The most invasive ones, i.e. those that have the most harmful impact on our health. Why are farmers opposed to this? Reducing the use of pesticides will reduce the food produced by the farmer due to fungi, insects, and pests attacking his crops.

The Polish Institute of Agricultural and Food Economics estimated that if farmers in Poland massively changed the way they cultivate their land, they would be able to reduce the use of pesticides by 16.5%. Unfortunately, this is still far from the 50% assumed by the EU. Therefore, as part of the common agricultural policy, Poland has set the goal of reducing the use of pesticides by 5%.

Another EU goal is to reduce the use of fertilizers by farmers by 20%. Depending on the type of soil in a given Member State, it will have a different impact on crops. It is worth noting that the soils in Poland are worse and have fewer nutrients compared to most of the EU countries. Reducing the use of fertilizers will increase this difference. This may result in a reduction in the competitiveness of Polish agriculture. Moreover, fewer insecticides have been registered in our country than in most EU countries. The occurrence of subsequent infections, especially those with a long duration of action, will result in the need to strengthen the effects of available preparations to ensure the effectiveness of the treatment and prevent the development of immunity among insects.

In addition to the demands of the Green Deal, farmers oppose the inflow of products, specifically food, from Ukraine. As we mentioned earlier in our article, the inflow of Ukrainian products in member states results from the blockade of seaports as a result of the armed conflict. On September 12, 2023, the EU lifted restrictions on the import of products from Ukraine. In response to this, several countries geographically closest to Ukraine introduced their restrictions — Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. In turn, in response to this, Ukraine introduced its restrictions on Poland. First of all, there was a ban on the supply of Polish fruit to Ukraine, and it filed a complaint against Poland with the World Trade Organization — WTO.

What did farmers’ protests look like in other European countries?

Italy: Initially, the protests consisted of blocking roads, but later thousands of people demonstrated in the ancient Circus Maximus stadium, and a separate demonstration took place in the Capitol. Demonstrators supported increasing the profitability of agricultural production and increasing costs. They are completely opposed to the Green Deal strategy. According to the Minister of Agriculture, Francesco Lollobrigida, the Italian government wants agriculture not to be involved/related to pro-ecological ideology.

The Czech Republic: protests organized by two groups. One of them attempted to block the main entrance roads in Prague with tractors and other agricultural machines. They demand the rejection of the Green Deal strategy and a change in the EU’s agricultural policy. They also protest against the uncontrolled import of products from Ukraine. However, those farmers who are associated with three organizations decided to join the protest of other member states. Including Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania.

Slovakia: this protest went down in history. It was convened by the Chamber of Agriculture and Food Industry (SPPK). Almost 2.5 thousand tractors and agricultural machines took to the streets. The main goal of the protest was to oppose the EU’s agricultural policy and excessive bureaucracy. In addition, farmers demanded payment for the rest of last year’s crops. Slovak Prime Minister Roberto Fico clearly expressed his dissatisfaction with the decision to extend preferences for the export of Ukrainian goods to the EU market.

France: the protests started in January. The main reason why farmers started protests was the decline in income, rising costs, bureaucratic burdens, and competition from abroad. The French government compromised and announced a series of concessions to the protesters’ demands.

Hungary: the protests took place in early February. During the protests, farmers opposed the import of Ukrainian agricultural products. They support the decision taken by Hungary to impose an embargo on Ukrainian agricultural products.

Greece: the protests result from rising energy costs, which result in higher agricultural production costs. Additionally, the reason for the protests is the government’s insufficient financial support after the losses the country has experienced.

Belgium: the culmination of the protests took place during the EU summit. Over a thousand tractors entered the capital of the country, and several thousand people gathered in front of the European Parliament itself. Farmers opposed the restrictive requirements imposed on their farms and showed their dissatisfaction with the import of agricultural products from outside the European community. As an expression of their opposition, protesters poured manure into the street and threw eggs at the European Parliament.

Netherlands: The country where farmers’ protests began on a larger scale. The demonstrators protested against the agricultural policy of the government and the EU authorities. They believe that the Green Deal hurts not only the European economy but also on Europeans themselves.

Germany: At the beginning of January this year. Farmers launched a wave of strikes, blocking the country’s roads with tractors, and protesting against the government’s gradual abolition of tax breaks on agricultural fuel. Protests even involve burning tires and throwing manure into the streets.

To sum up,

Europe is one of the parties to the Paris Agreement, the foundation of all global climate action. As a party to this agreement, in 2019 it adopted its new development plan — the European Green Deal. A huge and incredibly important undertaking because the Green Deal — as we have mentioned many times in our article — aims to rebuild the European economy so that it becomes climate neutral by 2050 and does not involve further environmental degradation. As part of this plan, the EU adopted the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050, and an intermediate goal for 2030, which concerns reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% compared to 1990. This year, the EU is starting to translate the goals into specific legislative changes.

If the set climate goals (including the Green Deal) are achieved by 2050, Europe will be a continent with a completely different economy than the one we have now. It will be a decarbonized economy, built on a completely different energy foundation than today, a closed-circuit economy (i.e. based on the reuse of resources once taken from the environment). Europe will have a clean and healthy environment because part of the assumptions of the Green Deal is to restore what has been destroyed in nature — that is, to restore ecosystems. By implementing climate goals, Europe will become a better, cleaner place.

Even though the Green Deal has become the epitome of evil for farmers, it brings many benefits. A complete abandonment of the Green Deal assumptions would result in farmers losing direct subsidies or funds for the so-called Eco-schemas, i.e. for pro-ecological activity. Therefore, it should be remembered that agriculture is an area whose development depends mainly on a sustainable climate and a satisfactory condition of ecosystems.





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