Hundreds of German farmers set up disruptive road blockades to protest punitive taxes


Farmers in Germany have taken to the streets in sub-zero temperatures, blockading roads with farm equipment and trucks as they protest subsidy cuts. Reports from Berlin indicate that more than 500 trucks and tractors have been parked by the city's Brandenburg Gate, while blockades have also been set up in Bavaria, Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Wurttemberg.

Across the country, people are dealing with heavy traffic and struggling to reach certain locations. Several border crossings with France have also been blocked. A Volkswagen car plant in the city of Emden in northwestern Germany had to stop production because blocked access roads meant that employees were unable to get to work.

A group of farmers stopped Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck from getting off of a ferry in a North Sea port when he was returning from a personal trip. The German government and the farmers association condemned the incident as politicians warned that extremists might capitalize on the unrest.

The subsidy cuts in question were enacted to correct a budget crisis after a court ruled that the government's budget for next year was illegal. Enraged farmers have called on the German government to drop its plans to cut their subsidies and have said that they will endanger the country's supply of high-quality food. The tax breaks the government is seeking to end save farmers $980 million per year, and they say the plans will drive them out of business.

One Bavarian farmer, Ralf Huber, told Reuters: "For a farm like mine, I would lose about 10,000 euros. For our businesses, it's a catastrophe."

The country's interior minister, Nancy Faeser, said that preventing people from getting to work, school or doctor's appointments will only lead to “anger and disagreement”.

However, some Germans stuck in traffic voiced support for the farmers, with one person commenting: “With the current government, Germany has been going down the drain… The incompetence of these politicians just drives you nuts."

In November, the German constitutional court declared a budget the government had set for 2024 illegal, and ministers have been trying to find a way to make up for a $17 billion euro hole in their budget.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-party coalition came up with a plan to eliminate a car tax exemption for farm vehicles and diesel tax breaks as part of a broader package to correct the budget. Last week, they scaled it back partially, announcing that the car tax exemption would remain in place and cuts in diesel tax breaks will be staggered across a three-year period to “give the affected companies more time to adjust.” However, the German Farmers Association is pushing for the plan to be completely reversed and has threatened to conduct a “week of action” this week.

A spokesperson for Scholz, Steffen Hebestreit, made it clear that they were not thinking about revising their plans. He stated: “There is no consideration inside the government of changing anything else about this.”

Blockade is only the beginning

The president of the German Farmers’ Association, Joachim Rukwied, said the blockade was only the first step of their efforts.

“Our position remains unchanged: Both proposals for cuts must be taken off the table. This is clearly also about the future viability of our industry and the question of whether domestic food production is still desirable at all,” he added.

It is expected to be a challenging week for Germans as a three-day strike is expected to be held later this week by a union that represents German train drivers, who are taking action against the state owned railway operator Deutsche Bahn over their pay and working hours. Members are expected to walk out of their jobs from 2:00 am on Wednesday morning until 6:00 pm on Friday afternoon. 

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