Yoselina Guevara López
Thousands of tractors occupy the streets of major cities across Europe, showing their anger and discomfort with the policies of the governments that are part of the European Union. They are demonstrations that began in the fall of 2023, but during the month of January and February 2024 have spread strongly throughout the old continent, setting fire to the headquarters of the European Parliament in Brussels, but also threatening to reach the stage of the Italian Song Festival in San Remo.
Farmers’ grievances vary from country to country, ranging from German protests against cuts in diesel subsidies to French protests against free trade agreements. Farm workers are also united by common problems, such as rising energy and input prices, coupled with the growing gap between the profit margins of small farmers and the big agribusiness giants and supermarket chains. It is no coincidence that among the targets of the protests, in addition to the nerve centers of world politics, are also the headquarters of several agribusiness giants, in front of which the striking farmers have thrown large loads of manure.
Opportunity for the fossil lobby and the far right
The tractor demonstrations of the last few months are unwittingly playing into the hands of parties opposed to decarbonization and the so-called “fossil lobby” within the EU. Let us not forget that in June 2024 the European Parliament elections will be held. The political move is complex to understand; at first the farmers’ indignation found its voice and sounding board on the left, because it was mainly aimed against free trade agreements and multinationals. But this time it is trying to focus attention on the opposition to the policies of the European Union that are spearheaded by the attack on the Green Deal (Green Pact), with its strategies “From Farm to Fork” and “Biodiversity 2030”; this direction is being driven by the right and extreme right parties determined to overthrow the majority that supports the “green lobby” of the European Parliament.
In this sense, the main problem lies in the fact that European policies, designed to protect the planet, are devoid of measures that could help farmers to face the serious economic difficulties they are going through and at the same time allow them to accelerate the ecological transition of the agricultural sector, victim and executioner of the climate crisis. This is not to say, however, that we should not be on the sidelines of environmentally sustainable measures in agriculture, because this would mean the end of all agricultural activity in the coming decades.
The climate crisis is growing at an accelerated pace, as we see every day with weather phenomena worldwide; but the great challenge begins by taking into account the demands of the rural production sector and at the same time creating a model of agriculture capable of implementing the ecological transition, designed to strongly support the costs and income of farmers, which will allow them to produce truly healthy food for consumers.
In defense of farmers
The agricultural sector accounts for only 11% of the European Union’s greenhouse gas emissions, yet it is the first to pay the price of extreme weather events due to climate change, which have increasingly affected production in recent years. Many farm workers are forced to change crops due to prolonged periods of drought, while others, who would like to preserve traditional crops, are calling for new reservoirs and water harvesting infrastructure that governments do not always prioritize.
Since 2005, more than a third of farms in the European Union have closed their doors, in a scenario in which more and more transnational giants are emerging and smaller companies are becoming less and less competitive. In general terms, farmers feel harassed by a bureaucracy from the EU to national governments that know little or nothing about production costs and the hard work of farming. But the farming sector also lives under the demand to produce more food cheaply while respecting the climate and the environment; therefore they argue that green policies, as they are currently conceived, are unfair, economically unsustainable and will eventually prove to be self-destructive.
European Commission’s re-launching of green policies
From the European Commission, with its current president Ursula Von der Leyen, they have given the green light by announcing in early February the withdrawal of the controversial European Pesticides Act, Regulation South (Sustainable Use of Pesticides), which had already been rejected in November 2023 by the European Parliament, and which imposed a drastic reduction in the use of plant protection products and pesticides.
Undoubtedly an achievement of the tractor protests but nevertheless, we must responsibly insist on pointing out that the Green Deal or Green Pact of the European Union is not the enemy, the real problem lies in the low income of the majority of small and medium agricultural producers. In fact, according to data from the Matthews Analysis Company, during the year 2022, 94% of EU financial aid will end up in the hands of the richest agricultural producers, while only 6% of the money will be distributed to the poorest farmers. Once again, a small group benefits to the detriment of the great majorities, a logic that we know perfectly well to which ideology it belongs and which have been the negative consequences it has brought to all mankind.
Yoselina Guevara López: social communicator, political analyst, columnist in different international media, whose work has been translated into English, Italian, Greek and Swedish. Winner of the Simón Bolívar 2022 National Journalism Award (Venezuela), special mention Opinion; Aníbal Nazoa 2021 National Journalism Award (Venezuela); I Historical Memory Contest Comandante Feliciano 2022 (El Salvador) Third place.