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Farmers across the country – demonstrating and threatening Habeck – while they are as well off as they have ever been

The frustration among German farmers is immense. This was evident in an incident on Thursday evening.

Angry farmers barred Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Green Party) from disembarking from a ferry in the Schleswig-Holstein village of Schlüttsiel, which he was using for a private trip.

The police reported more than 100 demonstrators and about 30 officers on site. Pepper spray was also used.

According to the shipping company, the ship on which the Green Party politician was located, was almost stormed. Habeck had to return to the Hallig Hooge and only reached the mainland late at night.

Numerous protests scheduled in the coming days

It would not have taken much for the situation to escalate. The incident already has legal consequences: The public prosecutor’s office is investigating, among other things, for coercion and breach of the peace.

More protests are announced in the coming days. Farmers across Germany plan to block roads and highway entrances with their tractors, and there will be a rally in Berlin.

208 gatherings with thousands of tractors are registered in Bavaria alone, including major rallies in Munich, Augsburg, and Nuremberg. State Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann (CSU) pointed out the deployment of riot police to maintain order.

Farmers are plagued by existential fears

It is not new that many farmers are dissatisfied with German politics. There were outcries when the regulations for the use of pesticides were to be tightened. Or when a ban on fertilizer for crop strips near water bodies was discussed.

German farmers have repeatedly felt unjustly accused and found environmental protection regulations disproportionate. Some feared for their existence, some still do.

The fact that the traffic light coalition government now wanted to cut two important subsidies for farmers due to the budget crisis is causing further outrage. This is the reason why many farmers are taking to the streets.

Although the federal government has dropped its plan to lift the vehicle tax exemption for agricultural vehicles, the abolition of the reduced tax on agricultural diesel is to remain, albeit stretched over three years.

Are the protests justified?

The farmers do not want to accept this. After all, the discontinuation of the agricultural diesel subsidy leaves a hole in their finances.

“The discontinuation of the agricultural diesel refund would mean additional costs of between 2300 euros per year (specialized arable farming operation) and 3900 euros per year (specialized dairy farm) for an average 100-hectare farm,” said Thomas Herzfeld from the Leibniz Institute für Agricultural Development in Transforming Economies in Halle an der Saale to the Berliner Morgenpost.

It is true that many agricultural businesses depend on subsidies. “Allowances and grants can account for a share of operational income between 4 and 40 percent, depending on the operational orientation,” said the expert.

The agricultural diesel discount, which is currently under dispute, according to Herzfeld, only accounts for a “very small share”. Much more significant are the direct payments from the EU.

Alfons Balmann, an agricultural economist and director at the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Development in Transforming Economies, also saidas reported by “Spiegel”, the proposed cuts “are not endangering the existence of either larger or smaller businesses”.

If a farm were to financially stumble, in the eyes of other experts, it would be an indication that the affected farm already had problems.

Farmers are as prosperous as they have been in a long time

The truth is that farmers in Germany are currently in a better financial position than they have been in a long time. The Farmers’ Association published figures in December showing a significant improvement in business results for the 2022/23 financial year that ended in June.

According to the data, the average profit of a farm was 115,400 euros – compared to 79,432 euros in the previous year. This marks an increase of around 45 percent. Additionally, the portal “agrarheute” reported in late November that record profits were achieved in all forms of business despite high costs.

However, farmers also need to finance investments with their returns. This is a concern for Joachim Rukwied, the president of the association. He stated to the “Berliner Morgenpost” that despite the “considerably improved financial situation”, many farms had invested significantly less. Furthermore, producer prices are again in a “downward spiral”.

Claus Deblitz, deputy head of the Institute of Business Management at the Thünen Institute for Rural Areas, Forests and Fisheries, also told “Spiegel” that the situation had deteriorated since summer. Thus, the loss of subsidies is hitting the farmers harder.

Farmers lack an agricultural policy perspective

Perhaps the current protests are a mix of financial concerns and a feeling of being unfairly treated by the government. Sebastian Lakner, agricultural economist at the University of Rostock, told “Spiegel” that farmers have not been provided with an agricultural policy perspective.

There is uncertainty about the direction the industry should take. Additionally, many farmers do not understand why there should be cost reductions in their sector while other environmentally harmful subsidies, such as the company car privilege, remain. Moreover, most of them lack a real alternative to diesel.

Other concerns run much deeper. Overbearing bureaucracy, expensive energy, and competition from abroad. These are concerns that affect not only farmers.

The heated atmosphere has been evident since the Habeck incident on Thursday at the latest. Günther Felßner, the president of the Bavarian Farmers’ Association, even partly blamed the green minister of economic affairs for the incidents.

He told the “Bayerischer Rundfunk” (BR) that politicians should not be confronted. However, this presupposes a certain willingness to engage in dialogue. “If that is not the case, then such unpleasant scenes occur,” said Felßner.

Blurring the lines between orderly protest and mere blockade

Given this backdrop, it is completely unclear how orderly or peaceful the demonstrations planned in the coming days will be. The lines between legitimate protest and mere blockade are in danger of blurring.

This is especially the case because it seems that the farmers’ protests are being exploited by other groups. Schleswig-Holstein’s Minister of Agriculture Sabine Sütterlin-Waack told the broadcaster “ntv” that an entry in the “Freie Schleswig-Holsteiner” Telegram channel, associated with the unconstitutional delegitimizing scene, fueled the Habeck action on Thursday.

According to her, right-wing extremists are trying to “use larger political and societal protests for their own purposes and gain support in the predominantly democratic conservative spectrum”. This is also not appreciated by the German farmers.

In conversations with “taz” and the “Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland” (RND), the Farmers’ Association distanced itself from right-wing currents. What remains is a sense of uncertainty about what happens next – politically, socially, economically. Not only among farmers.

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