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The Connotations and Implications of Germany’s Farmer Protests

13 Jan 2024

The Connotations and Implications of Germany’s Farmer Protests

13 Jan 2024

The ongoing protests by German farmers have sparked a significant national discussion, bringing to light complex issues surrounding agricultural subsidies, environmental regulations, and the economic challenges faced by the farming community.


The catalyst for the protests is the German government’s decision to gradually phase out tax breaks for farmers on diesel fuel over a three-year period, starting in 2024. The reduction is set at 40% in 2024, followed by 30% in 2025 and 2026, leading to the complete elimination of diesel subsidies by 2027.[1] Organized primarily by the German Farmers’ Association and its regional branches, the protests also involve the transport sector, specifically the Bundesverband Güterkraftverkehr, Logistik und Entsorgung (BGL), protesting against perceived double taxation through CO₂ pricing on both tolls and diesel.

The divisive issues at the heart of the protests revolve around the government’s decision to cut subsidies for the agricultural sector, especially regarding the use of agri-diesel. Farmers argue that these cuts adversely impact their livelihoods and threaten the agricultural industry’s viability.

Originally, the plan was to eliminate both diesel aid and vehicle tax exemption simultaneously. The subsidy cuts were aimed to save nearly €1 billion in the 2024 government budget.[2]

Protest Actions

The farmers’ protests involve a range of actions, including demonstrations, road blockades, slow-moving tractor convoys, and car processions. These activities, initiated at the regional level, culminate in a major demonstration in Berlin on 15 January, with an estimated 10,000 participants and numerous tractors. The farmers’ central demand is the reversal of government plans to cut subsidies, particularly the tax break on agricultural diesel.[3]

Farmers have strategically used their vehicles to disrupt traffic, leading to significant logistical challenges and economic consequences. Farmers set up road blockades, including on highways, causing disruptions to traffic. The protests have not only affected rural areas but also major urban centers, causing disruptions to daily life and economic activities.

The protests have also attracted support from other groups, such as road hauliers protesting against increased road tolls and small-business owners grappling with soaring energy costs and high inflation. Simultaneously, the German Train Drivers’ Union (GDL) has called for nationwide rail strikes from Wednesday to Friday, impacting Deutsche Bahn, Transdev, and City-Bahn Chemnitz. A legal challenge by Deutsche Bahn to prevent the strike is anticipated. General strikes for political objectives are almost impossible in Germany due to labor laws, and participants in political protests during work hours risk consequences.[4]

Government Response and Farmer Demands

The government, in response to mounting pressure, partially rolled back its subsidy reduction plans after protests erupted. While the proposed cut to car tax exemptions was rescinded, the reduction in diesel subsidies will proceed as planned. The German Farmers’ Association insists that these concessions are insufficient and demands the complete withdrawal of both subsidy reduction proposals. The central issue remains the tension between the government’s fiscal responsibilities and the farmers’ concerns about their economic viability.

German Farmers Association President Joachim Rukwied called for a halt to the reductions, characterizing them as a “gradual demise”. Rukwied accused the government of initiating a “liquidation scenario” with the subsidy cuts, predicting a rapid structural transformation. He argued that this would force more farms to cease operations. Despite concerns, Rukwied emphasized the disciplined nature of the protests, asserting that demonstrations were proceeding peacefully.[5]

Economic Context and Subsidies

The agricultural sector in Germany receives substantial subsidies, totaling billions of euros annually. These funds, sourced from both the EU budget and federal allocations, encompass tax breaks and financial aid. The contentious issues driving the protests primarily revolve around subsidized fuel and vehicle taxes, with around €925 million earmarked for these subsidies in the 2024 budget. Despite the seemingly large figure, the impact on individual farms is minimal, with an average subsidy of €3000 per year per farm.[6]

Farmer’s Economic Standing and Grievances

Contrary to common misconceptions, German farmers have experienced an economic upturn, with record-breaking profits in the past year. However, this prosperity is not uniform, with variations based on factors like weather conditions and product prices. The government’s proposed subsidy cuts have triggered concerns about the broader structural changes in agriculture, leading to a perception among farmers that their existence is under threat. While the overall economic outlook is cautiously optimistic, there is a recognition of challenges, particularly in sectors like livestock farming.

German farmers argue that stringent environmental regulations have been imposed on them, impacting traditional farming practices. Regulations related to pesticide use, crop rotation, and land management are seen as restrictive and, in some cases, financially burdensome. Farmers contend that these regulations, while aimed at promoting sustainability and environmental protection, often do not consider the economic challenges faced by the agriculture sector. 

The focus on animal welfare standards has also intensified, with farmers facing stricter guidelines for the treatment and housing of livestock. Compliance with these rules may require significant investments in upgrading facilities to meet higher welfare standards. While animal welfare is a crucial aspect, farmers argue that the financial implications of adhering to these regulations further strain their economic viability. 

Farmers in Germany have frequently expressed concerns about their economic viability, particularly in the face of rising input costs such as fuel, electricity, and gas. The inability to set their own prices, coupled with pressure from large supermarkets demanding lower prices for agricultural products, contributes to a situation where farmers feel compelled to produce more for less. This economic squeeze, aggravated by the global market’s fluctuations, threatens the sustainability of smaller farms.[7] 

German farmers attribute some of their challenges to broader structural changes in the agricultural sector, characterized by industrialization and consolidation. Large-scale industrial farming and the dominance of big agribusinesses can make it difficult for smaller, traditional farms to compete. The shift towards industrial practices, influenced by market demands and global competition, creates a dynamic where farmers feel compelled to adapt or face economic hardship. Many farmers feel compelled to operate larger farms with diminishing profit margins due to global market forces. In particular, the economic viability of small and medium-sized farms is threatened, leading to concerns about the survival of family-owned agriculture businesses.[8]

Rising Populism and Far-Right Infiltration

The protests have evolved into a stage for far-right groups, notably the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, to align with disgruntled farmers. Banners adorned with far-right symbols and anti-government sentiment have raised alarms about potential infiltration by extremist ideologies.

Security experts and government officials have warned that far-right elements are attempting to exploit the protests for their political agenda. This adds a layer of complexity to the demonstrations and raises questions about the potential consequences for democratic institutions.[9]

The concerns about right-wing infiltration into the German farmers’ protests have raised alarms among officials, particularly voiced by Bundeswirtschaftsminister Robert Habeck. The German government finds this infiltration problematic as it introduces an element of radicalization into what began as a legitimate expression of farmers’ grievances against subsidy cuts, potentially overshadowing the core issues. The association of extremist elements with the protests could tarnish the overall image of the movement and undermine the credibility of the farmers’ concerns. Moreover, the fear of right-wing extremism may intensify public and political scrutiny of the protests, making it more challenging for the government to engage in a constructive dialogue with the farmers.[10]

Despite the concerns about far-right infiltration, public support for the farmers remains high. The protests have garnered attention and sympathy from various political parties, including the conservative CDU/CSU and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).

The German Farmers’ Association has condemned extremist groups and emphasized their commitment to democratic values.

Implications and Potential Consequences

The protests have not only highlighted the immediate economic concerns of farmers but have also raised questions about the government’s ability to balance fiscal responsibility and the sustainability of the agricultural sector.

The farmer protests in Germany carry significant social, legal, political, and economic implications, with both short-term disruptions and far-reaching consequences.

On the social front, the protests have led to widespread traffic disruptions, with blockades of roads and highways causing inconvenience to commuters, schoolchildren, and public transportation users. Tensions have escalated to the extent that there are reports of confrontations between protesters and other road users. This social unrest not only impacts daily life but also underscores the intensity of the farmers’ dissatisfaction.

Legally, the protests have prompted law enforcement to intervene, responding to incidents such as threats against reporters and attempts to breach blockades. The legal aftermath could involve investigations into these incidents, potentially resulting in charges for those involved. The ongoing strikes by German farmers do not fit the conventional definition of general strikes. These protests are more specific to the agricultural sector and are initiated by farmers rather than a broad coalition of workers across industries. However, they share some characteristics with general strikes in terms of causing disruptions to transportation and production. The nature of the farmers’ strikes is more targeted, focusing on specific issues related to agricultural subsidies, taxation, and environmental policies affecting their sector. These protests are not part of a broader, cross-industry movement. Therefore, while they may cause considerable disruptions, they cannot be strictly categorized as general strikes.[11]

Politically, the protests pose a challenge to the German government as it grapples with the delicate task of addressing farmers’ concerns while maintaining public order. The government’s initial proposal to cut agricultural subsidies sparked the protests, and its subsequent partial withdrawal of the subsidy cuts indicates a responsiveness to public outcry. However, the lingering dissatisfaction among farmers suggests that finding a sustainable resolution will require nuanced policymaking.[12]

While the government has attempted to address some concerns, the protests persist, reflecting the deep-rooted anxieties within the farming community. In the long term, the protests may catalyze broader discussions on the future of agriculture in Germany, potentially prompting policy changes. The economic repercussions extend beyond the agricultural sector, affecting transportation, manufacturing, and other industries reliant on smooth logistical operations.

[1] “German farmers’ protest sparks chaos,” Deutsche Welle, January 8, 2024,

[2] “Bauernproteste sorgen bundesweit für Störungen,” Tagesschau, January 8, 2024,

[3] Hannelore Crolly, “So drohen die Bauernproteste das Land lahmzulegen,” Welt, January 8, 2024,

[4] “Es sind nicht nur Bauern, die ihrem Unmut Luft machen,” t-online, January 10, 2024,

[5] “German farmers’ protests deepen woes of Olaf Scholz’s government,” Financial Times, January 8, 2024,

[6] ‘Özdemir warnt vor Spaltung der Gesellschaft: “Zustände wie in den USA,”’, January 10, 2024,

[7] “Farmer protests continue in Germany after govt backtracks on cuts for climate-damaging subsidies,” Clear Energy Wire, January 5, 2024,

[8] “German farmers’ protests deepen woes of Olaf Scholz’s government,” op. cit.

[9] “German farmer protests spark fears of far-right infiltration,” Politico, January 8, 2024,

[10] Markus Giebel, “Bauern-Proteste in Deutschland: “Wollen Rechte und andere Radikale nicht haben,”” Frankfurter Rundschau, January 7, 2024,

[11] Andreas Rinke and Miranda Murray, “Nationwide German farmer blockades heap pressure on Scholz,” Reuters, January 8, 2024,

[12] “Wenn es keine weiteren Zugeständnisse gibt, dann sieht die Ampel-Regierung alt aus,“ Welt, January 10, 2024,

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