Europe’s farmers are standing up for their rights

Greek farmers drive their tractors through Athens

Contributed from Victoria

Europe’s farmers have been angry for some time. Protests have erupted from time to time. Now the fire has spread over several countries. Small farmers from 21 European countries are being represented by European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC), which defines itself as the collective voice of the continent, is coordinating the current protest movement.

Small farmers are out in the streets, blocking major roads with tractors and other vehicles, united by a stand or their survival. They have been doing this since the start of January.

Photo by Dirk Waem/Belga/AFP/Getty: Farmers throw eggs in Brussels

The European Union’s new Common Agricultural Policy is a problem. It has been put out as part of a package, compelling farmers to not farm 4 percent of the land, and reduce the farming sector’s 11 percent contribution to greenhouse emissions. Farmers are also being told to reduce fertiliser use by 20 percent.

Sometimes it’s presented as if this is what its all about. It isn’t. Farmers have been experiencing declining incomes. A big problem is the flooding of Europe with imports. A sizeable part of this is presently coming in from Ukraine, as part of the effort of European governments to help that country in its current war and keep its economy afloat. One consequence is that European farmers are finding it harder to sell their produce.

Farmers protest in Rome

In truth, the ECVC calls for sustainable agriculture based on working with nature and through collective organisation to secure food sovereignty and ensuring the quality of food, for all and not just the profit of a few. The means is to chive this through collective organisation and decision making by farmers and farm workers.

They support the Farm to Fork Strategy for sustainable agriculture, as part of the European Green Deal. But they don’t want to be unfairly targeted. Famers had been opposing the intention to end laws banning genetically modified crops. They won a stop to this.

The trouble is that the European Union has embraced the WTO-promoted policies of deregulation of agricultural markets. A policy that favours agribusiness corporations and disadvantages the family farm. Farmers are demanding an end to so-called free trade agreements that leave them is a worse position.

A long running problem is pressure from the United States for Europe to remove protections on farmers and open up the sector to American imports. European farmers have traditionally been subsidised and protected from competition from imports, because this safeguards the land and higher quality of produce.

The increasing cost of farming is a problem. And this has been made worse by falling prices brought about by agricultural imports. Tariffs used to be imposed on imports. They no longer are.

Farmers in Berlin

There are complaints over what farmers are calling the red tape of “suffocating bureaucracy” imposed by Brussels, the capital of the European Union. Farmers say the complexity of documents and having to submit forms for approval at every turn is a major headache. They want an end to it.  

The overlay is that farmers are facing the implementation of neoliberalism on their turf. Government responsibility is being pulled away and the unrestricted market is being unleashed, and small armers are paying the price.

They want an end to the neoliberal framework. They insist that protection must continue, and that a transition must come through a plan that provides the means to survive the change and not be driven off the land.

Photo from EPA: Famers block road in Logrono in northern Spain

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