The farmers’ revolt in Europe: here’s why and what the demands are


By John

Farmers’ protests are spreading like wildfire across Europe, who have been demonstrating in the four corners of the old continent for over two weeks. Even if the common enemy is the European Union and its loudly contested rules, they are driven by claims that partly differ from country to country. In Brussels, threatened by the tractors of revolting farmers, discussions are underway between the EU Commission, trade unions, agricultural companies and sector experts. These are the demands in every nation, which push farmers to take to the streets, often blocking highways, borders and cities.

In Belgium, farmers converged on Brussels, the EU capital and beating heart of the reported rules, after blocking circulation in several provinces of Wallonia. The spokespersons for the category’s demands are Fugea, the Walloon Federation of Agriculture (FWA) and the Federation of Young Farmers (FJA). The central points of their mobilization are the guarantee of a decent income, as it is clear that there is a very significant gap between the selling price in shops and what the producer actually receives.

Farmers are calling for an adjustment of margins to better remunerate producers, but also for a tightening of standards compared to other countries that export products to Belgium at reduced prices. This forces Belgian farmers to reduce their margins. Secondly, Belgian farmers want the rules applied to them, particularly in terms of phytosanitary or antibiotics, and which increase their production costs, to also be imposed on products imported under free trade. The third instance is the halt to unproductivity, a consequence of the reform of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) which forces farmers to reduce their activity. Concretely this means that out of 100 hectares, four should be left fallow, on an annual rotation, to promote biodiversity.

This creates unfair competition with countries on other continents that are not subject to these standards. Finally, I want to obtain a reduction in administrative burdens, denouncing practices that are too complex for which they have to spend up to one day a week behind the computer, instead of concentrating on production. «What we want is to have high quality food, understand how we can produce it, at a price accessible to all, and which comes from our territory. Compared to the rest of the world, we produce with higher standards, both in terms of health and consumer protection.

All this keeping in mind that there are also the challenges of the ecological transition which must be accomplished efficiently and realistically,” summarized Marianne Streel, president of the FWA. In Wallonia, alarm bells ring that less than 5% of farmers are under the age of 35, posing a worrying problem for the future of the sector in this Belgian territory.


It is from this small country of almost 18 million inhabitants, the world’s second largest exporter of food products behind the United States, that the revolt of the agricultural world began in June 2022. In the Netherlands, a government project to reduce nitrogen emissions by reducing the number of livestock had pushed thousands of Dutch farmers onto the roads. Driving their tractors, they blocked highways and protested outside the homes of political leaders at various times. After months of protests, the revolt against the executive provoked an electoral wave of a young party bringing together farmers, the «Farmer-Citizen Movement» (BBB), which entered into force in the Senate in March 2023, although in the end won fewer seats than expected in November’s general election.

The exasperation of the peasant world has spread in recent months to Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. The producers of all these countries essentially denounce the “unfair competition” from Ukraine, accused of lowering the prices of its cereals. Indeed, in the wake of the Russian offensive, the EU suspended customs duties on all products imported from Ukraine in May 2022 and created “solidarity corridors” to allow Kiev to transit its cereal supplies. Except that a lot of food ends up accumulating among its European neighbors. Against this influx of Ukrainian wheat or corn, Polish, Bulgarian and Romanian farmers took out their tractors to block the border crossings with Ukraine.
In Poland, protests led to the resignation of the agriculture minister in April 2023, but it was not enough to quell their anger. For Polish farmers this influx of Ukrainian grains sold cheaper than their products on the domestic market, endangering their production and livelihoods, therefore they want subsidies and a reduction in agricultural taxes. Negotiations started a few months ago between Poland, Ukraine and the EU on this issue have so far not led to an agreement. In Romania, farmers are demanding the reduction of “too high” taxes, the acceleration of the schedule of subsidy payments as well as compensation for the drought and the deficit linked to the opening of the European market to Ukrainian cereals.


Finally, in Spain, the three main agricultural unions, exhausted by repeated droughts, joined the European farmers’ protest movement on 30 January. They too denounce “the suffocating bureaucracy generated by European regulations” while “the deregulated market imports agricultural products from third countries at low prices, which push prices down”. In a joint statement they underline that «these non-EU products do not respect European rules, are the cause of unfair competition and threaten the survival of thousands of agricultural companies in Spain and Europe».


In France, the powerful National Federation of Agricultural Trade Unions (FNSEA) and partly the Young Farmers group are leading protests and negotiations with the government. For clarity, they have released a ten-point list of demands which calls for, in the first point, a “fairer” wage for all farmers, a common and primordial request. Although many disparities exist in farmers’ income, depending mainly on the type of agricultural activity, according to INSEE in 2021, 18% of agricultural families lived below the poverty line.
Secondly, they ask for “absolute respect for the Egalim laws”, which aim to improve the remuneration of farmers, through the supervision of commercial negotiations between distributors and producers. Their effectiveness is questioned and producers are accused of not playing the game, which, as a result, deprives farmers of part of their income.

If Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced “very heavy” sanctions against companies that do not respect the Egalim laws, farmers continue to ask for “absolute respect” for them. The third point is the immediate payment of CAP aid and health and climate compensation. While the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy provides aid to farmers, protesters denounce the “administrative burden” it requires, and the fact that since last year direct European aid payments have been conditional on the application of environmental standards.

The FNSEA therefore requests immediate payment of this aid, “whatever the reason for non-payment”. Immediate payment of health and climate compensation is also required, this time due by the State. This concerns, for example, farms whose animals are affected by epizootic haemorrhagic disease (EHD), tuberculosis, avian influenza, or whose premises have been exposed to floods. Furthermore, immediate aid is requested for the sectors most in crisis: viticulture and organic agriculture.
In fact, in recent years, winemakers have been hit by numerous difficulties, in particular climate risks such as drought or frost, but also economic difficulties, linked to the increase in energy resources or raw materials. Organic farms are also facing many challenges, including a significant drop in sales linked to inflation. The majority union wants ad hoc measures from the government for breeders, and that farming is considered “a great national cause”. (AGI)
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Water management is also at the center of farmers’ concerns. If Gabriel Attal announced the repeal of the deadline for the creation of reservoirs, the FNSEA wants to go further and calls in particular for “the full and complete application of the Varenne de l’eau”, the “implementation of a more suitable system drought” or even “guarantee water withdrawals”. The European Union’s “Green Deal” (of which the CAP is part) is also in the sights of farmers, who wish to get out of it.

This imposes different standards for preserving biodiversity and ensuring food security, which many farmers find difficult to maintain. An exemption for uncultivated land was also requested. This is precisely one of the environmental obligations included in the Green Pact: the fact of having to leave 4% of arable land fallow or in agroecological infrastructures (hedges, trees, groves, ponds, etc.). A standard that represents a loss of income for farmers. Obtaining “a decent income for all farmers” would in particular involve the establishment of a law that prohibits all agricultural prices below cost prices. Finally, the FNSEA wants an exit from free trade agreements and an end to the negotiations associated with them. Prime minister and president reiterated France’s refusal to sign the free trade agreement between the EU and the Mercosur countries. Farmers believe this is “unfair competition”.


Germany has in some ways been a forerunner in the protests of farmers who have been mobilizing since the end of December against the reform of agricultural diesel taxation decided by Olaf Scholz’s government. To contest the end of the tax advantage on agricultural diesel, which starts in 2026, on January 15th thousands of farmers and more than 5 thousand tractors blocked Berlin. In addition to the elimination of tax advantages, they are driven by a vast field of demands ranging from “bureaucracy” to the fluctuation of incomes through criticism of environmental needs. In Germany, however, unlike France there is no fundamental opposition to the Mercosur-EU free trade agreement.


In Greece, farmers plan to converge in Thessaloniki, where an agricultural fair will be organized from February 1 to 4. Received by the President of the Republic, they denounced the increase in production costs, while catastrophic floods destroyed crops last summer and the price of olive oil skyrocketed. These are claims shared by their Italian counterparts.