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German farmers round off week of angry protests in Berlin

With farmer protests in Germany temporarily halted after weeks in which the country was shaken by planned subsidy cuts, Farmers’ Association president Joachim Rukwied said he was pressing ahead with talks with the federal government but stressed he wanted results by Thursday evening (18 January).

The protests, which have blocked roads since the start of the new year, culminated on Monday in front of the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin. An estimated 30,000 protesters and more than 5,000 tractors exceeded the expectations of organisers and authorities.

At a press conference after talks with parliamentary factions of Germany’s tripartite coalition government, Rukwied said that “it is time for negotiations”. Now is the time to end the protests, at least for the next few days, address MPs and hold solution-oriented talks, Rukwied said, adding that farmers would now “keep a low profile” to demonstrate their willingness to negotiate.

Before Christmas, the German government was forced to make spending cuts to close a €17 billion budget gap after the Constitutional Court ruled the proposed budget unconstitutional. To cut spending, the government also decided to cut some subsidies for farmers.

However, as it sparked protests, the government has already backtracked on some of the measures it had announced, such as the cancellation of the vehicle tax exemption, which it had abandoned, and farm fuel subsidies, which it said would be cut gradually rather than all at once.

This was not enough for farmers, so the Association of German Farmers (DBV) continued the announced protests, which reached their final point in Berlin. While the last speeches were being made in front of the Brandenburg Tower, representatives of the farmers’ organisations met with the heads of the federal government’s parliamentary groups to discuss their positions.

At the end of the discussion, the representatives of the associations said that good proposals had been made, but there was no agreement on the issue of agricultural fuel subsidies.

However, the government sees little room for manoeuvre on diesel tax breaks for farmers, as Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) announced during his speech in front of the Brandenburg Tower.

Amid a flurry of protests, Lindner said he could not refuse to cut subsidies because “everyone has to do their part.”

Agriculture is financed by Brussels and Berlin with €9 billion annually. […] As the finance minister, I must, therefore, always ask: What funds are necessary, and what alternatives are there?

Lindner, who described himself as a country lad who once cleaned stables, tried to get farmers on his side by contrasting their peaceful protest in Berlin with the behaviour of climate activists who threw paint on the Brandenburg Gate, “a symbol of German national unity”.

But he said the scarce money was needed for long-neglected investments in schools and roads, as well as subsidising industrial energy. The outcry grew louder when Lindner said the money was needed because of the war in Ukraine.

With the war in Ukraine, peace and freedom in Europe are threatened once again, so we have to invest once again in our security as we used to.

Grievances ranging from high energy prices to competition from Ukrainian grain have sparked farmer protests across Europe in recent months. On Monday, Romanian farmers protested near border crossings with Ukraine, a vital artery for Kyiv’s war effort, to deliver their demand for more government support.

Tractors and lorries, which arrived overnight from all over Germany, parked nose to nose along the highway. Crowds of farmers, wrapped up against the cold, waved German flags and held banners with slogans including:

“Without farmers there is no future.”

The ruling parties are divided over how best to meet the farmers’ demands. Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir, a Green, has proposed financial rewards for humane animal husbandry, while some Social Democrats want to offer higher prices for produce and Lindner’s Free Democrats want to cut administrative overheads.

Some protesters arrived in cars with manure, which they planned to dump at the door of the Bundestag, the parliament building next to the Brandenburg Gate. But last-minute negotiations between the police and the organisers dissuaded them from doing so.

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