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Jan 30, 2024, 6:45pm EST
Europe
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Farmer protests spread in Europe, fueling rise of populism

Insights from the Financial Times, The Guardian, BBC

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The News

Thousands of farmers surrounded Paris this week, blocking key highways and disrupting food transportation as an agricultural crisis intensifies across Europe.

Farmers across the continent say their livelihoods are being battered by rising costs, increased European regulation, and unfair competition from abroad.

Germany, Italy and Belgium are among the countries hit by protests, which has played into the hands of far-right parties such as France’s National Rally and the German AfD, and the unrest is expected to spread to Spain and Portugal.

France’s new prime minister Gabriel Attal, on Tuesday pledged to accelerate emergency funds for farmers and increase controls on foreign products to guarantee fair competition.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Farmers feel disproportionately affected by EU environment targets

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Sources:  
Financial Times, Voice of America, The Guardian

Many farmers feel the burden of implementing environmental protections in the EU – such as the 2020 Green Deal, a sweeping set of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – unfairly falls on them rather than other large polluters.

“The Green Deal and the Farm to Fork seem wonderful, but they harm agricultural productivity,” one farmer told Voice of America. In France, farmers are protesting a ban on pesticides, the removal of agricultural diesel fuel subsidies, and fallow land policies that force farmers to set aside a percentage of their land for biodiversity. Although farms cause a significant amount of emissions, Dutch dairy farmers feel they are “under a microscope” and say there should be more measures targeting vehicles and industry. Farmers’ unions also oppose a planned EU free-trade agreement with the South American trade bloc Mercosur, complaining that South American countries will not have to adhere to the same environmental standards, the Financial Times reported.

EU measures to help Ukraine’s farmers spark resentment among its neighbors

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Sources:  
BBC, Reuters, AFP

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and Black Sea blockade, the EU lifted restrictions on Ukrainian food imports, allowing them to flood the market – causing discontent among farmers in neighboring Romania, Poland and Hungary, who feel they are unable to compete. A representative for one Polish farming union told AFP that farmers were opposed to “uncontrolled imports of agriculture products” from Ukraine, while a Romanian outlet likened the EU’s measures to allow in so many cheap Ukrainian goods to “a non-swimmer trying to save a drowning person. They both drown.”

Populist parties court farmers ahead of European Parliament elections in June

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Sources:  
Politico, The Guardian

Populist parties aim to capitalize on farmer anger in the upcoming European Parliament election. The difficulties facing farmers “may not be the number one issue, [but they are] surprisingly effective at crystalizing resentment over economic problems,” one political scientist told Politico. A recent European Council on Foreign Relations survey showed far-right parties placing first currently in nine EU countries, while a Politico poll showed the right-wing Identity and Democracy group of political parties set to become the third largest group in the EU parliament. In the Netherlands, a crackdown on nitrogen pollution led to a move to close farms – and the subsequent creation of a rural populist party, The Guardian reported – while Germany’s climate and economy minister has warned that fringe extremist groups are exploiting farmer protests. Meanwhile, one French right-wing politician said protests in Brussels were triggered by the stringent environmental policies put forward in the European Green Deal, complaining that farmers were subject to a “tsunami” of rules, Politico reported.

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