In December, a convoy of 1,700 tractors blocked the main road to Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate. Honking and chanting could be heard all over the city as farmers bashed the government’s plan to end tax breaks on fuel and agricultural vehicles in the 2024 budget. 

Under Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the government needs to make cuts of $18.5 billion in this year’s budget or find additional revenues. Ending tax breaks on farm vehicles and fuel would raise a little over $1 billion but would threaten the farmers’ livelihoods, their representatives say.

The German government comprises three political parties: the social democrat SPD, the Green Party, and the liberal-democrat FDP. Greens and FDP say they reject dragging down farmers with a tax hike but struggle to reign in government spending. The constitutional debt limit in Germany bars the government from borrowing its way out of the current budget crisis. The coalition is already on shaky feet after an internal FDP vote decided narrowly to continue being a part of it.

Making farmers the target by levying further taxes is not merely an act of fiscal desperation. Across Europe, governments are concerned over the environmental impact of farming and how that reflects on their global warming emissions. A slimmer farm sector would satisfy this environmental accounting because imported products from abroad do not count as domestic emissions.

Greenpeace has been at the forefront of arguing in favor of these tax hikes, implying that farmers are unnecessarily dramatic and privileged, asserting the agricultural sector “must play its part in achieving the climate targets and switch to fuel-saving and climate-friendly drive systems. The technology is available, and the first e-tractors are already in use.” 

The fact that electric tractors easily come at double the cost of conventional diesel tractors is left out of Greenpeace’s statement.

Greenpeace has had a significant effect on Germany’s policies. The former chief of Greenpeace International, Jennifer Morgan, now serves as special envoy for international climate policy under Germany’s Green foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock.

Despite the lobbying for tax hikes, the German government reversed course last week, deciding that tax hikes on agricultural vehicles would be scrapped. Those on diesel would be phased out over many years “to give companies more time to adjust.” This is a win for farmers despite early indications from organizers that they will continue to call for protests.

Once again, this shows the power of farmers who seek to be politically active and make their voices heard. An earlier example was the Dutch farmer protests against stringent rules on nitrous oxide emissions, in which the Dutch government was seeking to buy out a large set of livestock farmers in the country. Most farmers made it clear to politicians in The Hague: We value our profession and do not want to be considered a problem to be solved by our own government. 

Ultimately, a farmers’ party won the provincial election in the Netherlands, creating a roadblock in the government agenda that would enable the buyout program.

Farming also represented a significant issue in the recent Dutch parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his party were ousted and relegated to a less important position.

A rule of thumb in European politics is the following: If you act against the interests of farmers, you are bound to lose. Politicians in Berlin might think they changed course before they could find out — but it will very well be too late for their political reputation in any of the coming elections.

Originally published here



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