German farmers initiated a series of protests by blocking city centres, highways, and motorway slip roads with compact tractors, marking the start of a week-long, nationwide action against proposed reductions in agricultural subsidies. The government expressed concerns that these protests could be hijacked by right-wing extremists.
Joachim Rukwied, president of the German farmers’ association, emphasized the importance of a competitive agricultural sector in Germany for ensuring the supply of high-quality, locally-produced food. He informed Stern magazine that the protests, significantly disrupting cities including Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, and Bremen, might continue throughout the week.
The protests, featuring slow-moving compact tractor convoys and full-scale blockades, began before dawn, severely impacting traffic. Notably, in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, all autobahn on and off ramps were reported as obstructed.
Farmers, displaying signs with messages like “No farmer, no future” and “Your policies are a declaration of war against farmers”, gained support from hauliers protesting against substantial increases in road tolls for heavy goods vehicles.
Robert Habeck, the vice-chancellor, alerted in a video about the potential exploitation of these protests by fringe groups. Similarly, Stephan Kramer, head of the domestic intelligence agency in Thuringia, warned of the risk of far-right infiltration in legitimate civil protests, drawing parallels to past instances during the 2015 migration crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Dresden, Saxony's state capital, members of the Free Saxons, a right-wing extremist party, and The Third Way, a neo-Nazi party, participated in the protests, alongside delegates from the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Sahra Wagenknecht, a far-left politician, also supported the protest, critiquing the government's approach.
Despite over 2,000 compact tractors being registered for each city centre demonstration, the government only partially reversed its decision last week, maintaining a tax discount for agricultural vehicles but planning a gradual phase-out of a diesel subsidy.
The protests, including a significant gathering at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, proceeded despite this partial U-turn. The farmers' association remained adamant on a complete reversal of the subsidy cuts, with some farmers anticipating losses of up to €10,000 annually.
The government, on the other hand, stood firm on not considering further amendments to the subsidy phase-out plan, stating the necessity of decisive leadership even when it doesn't please everyone.
This wave of protests led by farmers and hauliers is potentially the beginning of widespread industrial action across various sectors, as Germany grapples with both immediate and long-term economic challenges. This includes upcoming strike actions by the train drivers’ union, GDL, demanding reduced working hours and pay rises, after failing to reach an agreement with Deutsche Bahn (DB).