Germany: Farmers' protest causes nationwide disruption

World Monday 08/January/2024 17:14 PM
By: DW
Germany: Farmers' protest causes nationwide disruption

Munich: German farmers are angered by the government's plans to slash agricultural subsidies. Blockades are expected to disrupt roadways across the country, posing a nightmare for commuters.

The protests are in full swing across Germany, with farmers' vehicles blocking access to highways and city centers.

In Munich alone, police said they had accompanied about 5,500 tractors from the surrounding region toward the city. A rally was planned for later in the center of the Bavarian capital.

Officials in the state of Brandenburg said entire towns had been blockaded by the protesting farmers, including Brandenburg an der Havel and Cottbus.  

Police in Rhineland-Palatinate reported an 18- to 20-kilometre (about 12-mile) long convoy with more than 1,000 tractors and trucks moving along the autobahn toward the state capital, Mainz.

There were also numerous demonstrating farmers with heavy machinery in the urban areas of Hamburg and Bremen, as well as Düsseldorf in North Rhine-Westphalia.

The German government says it is not considering any further changes to plans to phase out agricultural subsidies.

The announcement comes as a week of nationwide protests by farmers got underway.

"There are no considerations within the government to change anything," a government spokesperson said during a regular press conference in Berlin.

"In the end, a government has to decide and has to lead the way, and that can't always be to everyone's satisfaction," he added.

Protests halt VW production line
The farmers' protests have brought production at a Volkswagen factory in East Frisia to a halt, with staff unable to reach their workplaces.

"Production is on hold today," a VW spokeswoman said on Monday, with access routes to the plant at Emden blocked by the protests.

It was unknown how many employees were affected by the action, which stopped the production of the company's combustion engine models. VW also makes electric cars at the site although production of these after the Christmas holiday period is only set to resume next week.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck has called for a debate about the agricultural sector in light of the protests.

The Green politician, who is also Germany's vice-chancellor, highlighted his time as an agriculture minister in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Habeck said the real problem for farmers was the economic landscape they were operating in with heavy pressure from discounters, slaughterhouses, and dairies, as well as a fluctuating world market.

"There are good and bad years but, above all, there is a structural problem," Habeck said in a video produced by his ministry.

Farmers were often unable to pass on their production costs because prices were not being set by them. In turn, they were locked into a cycle of having to produce more, and smaller farms were gradually disappearing.

"It's called structural change. I think it's something euphemistic. It is the industrialization of agriculture."

While he said it was understandable that farmers would want to hold on to subsidies without concessions, Habeck stressed there were other answers such as fairer prices, rewards for sustainability, and direct selling to consumers.

"In my opinion, we should use the debate now to seriously and honestly to discuss exactly that," Habeck said.

Habeck and his wife were held up for several hours late on Thursday on their return from a private vacation on an island off Germany's northern coast, as roughly 250 to 300 farmers blockaded the port at which their ferry was docking.

Traffic blocked in central Berlin
In Berlin, DW correspondent Matthew Moore said the farmers are making their presence felt in the German capital, where tractors are parked in defiance near the Brandenburg Gate.

"They certainly have paralyzed this boulevard," said Moore. "This street beside me is normally bursting with traffic on a Monday morning but at the moment it's choked up with tractors and in the last few minutes we've heard their horns blaring."

"This is just one of hundreds of protests across Germany," said Moore, who explained that protests were expected to continue through the week.

"This is just one of many places where the farmers are  getting together to express really deep dissatisfaction with the government here."