Stretching from the Heerstraße to the Victory Column to the Brandenburg Gate, on Tuesday a long column of tractors invaded Berlin, while parts of Berlin's traffic were paralyzed.
This time it was not the climate activists who were worried about their future, reported Berlin weekly Junge Freiheit. From all corners of Germany, farmers arrived in order to demonstrate their displeasure with the environmental and agricultural policy of the Federal Government.
Angry farmers say they are not the villains of the nation, as many may think. The police later counted at least 8 600 tractors, while organisers spoke of up to 40 000 participants.
When a tourist asks in passing what the crowd represents, a laughing red-cheeked farmer answers: “The German farmers are manning the barricades.” A stage was erected behind the Brandenburg Gate from which Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) and Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) called to “invite farmers to the table” and to try and promote their political concepts.
The capital was not chosen as a place of protest by happenstance. “If farmers go to Berlin, something is wrong,” said one of the speakers. The current political “insanity” is reason enough for another visit of this kind, the protesters say. “We’ll meet again.”
The main issue is the agrarian package decided by the Bundestag in September. German farmers would have to produce food under ever stricter conditions which means making it much more expensive, while imported goods can be bought at ridiculous prices, the farmers say. The new measures have been robbing the farmers of their livelihood.
“If the farmer is ruined, your food will be imported,” one poster warns. Their work is not valued by politicians and society, and decisions are made in Berlin without them being consulted. Under the motto “Land creates connections” politicians and city dwellers should be made aware of the concerns of farmers.
Yellow vests and green vests, flags from Thuringia, Hesse, Lower Saxony and Brandenburg were seen under Berlin’s triumphal gate. “The politicians swore an oath to serve the German people. Do not we belong to the German people?” a father of four children from Oldenburg tells the audience. The mistrust in politicians is palpable in the crowd.
“They do not sow, they do not care, they do not fertilize and they do not reap. But they believe they know everything better,” jokes a poster about Svenja Schulze and Anton Hofreiter, a Green politician.
“Eight tractors are blocking the entrance to the presidential office. Those responsible should drive them away,” a spokesman for the rally says. The crowd responds with laughter, but when Schulze enters the stage, there is a hostile silence.
“We know how important you are,” says the Minister of the Environment. It is important to find good solutions together with the farmers. But without regulations, nothing will progress, Schulze warns. The minister’s efforts are greeted with silence. Her support for Friedrich Ostendorff (Greens) certainly did not generate a benevolent mood among the audience with his appeal to “resist populism”.
“Mrs. Schulze, you are shirking your responsibilities. Your appearance had nothing to do with respect,” says a diary farmer from North Rhine-Westphalia when given the microphone.
The farmers in general feel misunderstood: “We want appreciation and solutions that can secure our tradition over the generations.” Another agrees with great applause: “We do not want more money, we want to live from our work.”
FDP boss Christian Lindner, spoke out in support of the farmers. “It seems to me that politicians do not understand the seriousness of the situation in which the farmers are.” He said more rationality, reason and science are needed again. He was the only politician present to receive applause.
When Klöckner appeared on the stage, the crowd kept silent again. She called for a nationwide dialogue between farmers and politicians. She said because she grew up in the countryside, she knows the work of a farmer. But despite her efforts to gain sympathy, the crowd remained demonstratively subdued and whistled at her unpleasant statements only.
Despite the seriousness of the occasion, the tractor drivers did not seem bitter, but they were resolute. “She wants to beat us with our own means,” one Thuringian protester noted.
One farmer mocked the climate activists by carrying a placard with the inscription: “Farming for Future. Not only on Fridays.”
In the evening, many tractor drivers left the city as they came in the morning: hooting and in a convoy. It is not improbable that the hooting columns will soon be rolling from every corner of Germany towards the capital again.
Not only in Germany, but in the Netherlands, France and in Ireland farmers are struggling because of low incomes, the undermining of rural economies and also growing criticism of agricultural practices.
The German government package, first presented in early September, stipulated a reduction in the nitrate content in ground water by cutting the use of certain fertilizers and liquid manure. Also, glyphosate will be banned in Germany by the end of 2023 after a phasing-out period.
Martin Buchholz, a farmer who grows barley, oats, wheat and rapeseed, mainly for animal feed, on 160 hectares, told Deutsche Welle in October that he was skeptical about whether farming had any future in Germany because it was becoming too expensive to keep the business going. “We are slowly losing interest because we have to [meet] more and more requirements,” he explained.
In recent weeks, many German cities had been hit with similar protests, with a large demo in Bonn last month, while farmers have also been taking to the streets in the Netherlands.
The blockage in Ireland, which began this week, saw tractors descending on Dublin city center. The protest was organised by the Individual Farmers of Ireland, calling for fair prices for farmers producing milk, meat and grain.
Ireland’s agriculture minister, Michael Creed, said the government acknowledges the difficulties in the agricultural sector and would continue to support the industry, reported RTE.
French farmers drove their tractors to Paris on Wednesday to denounce the stigmatization of farming practices and what they see as increasing agro-bashing in society, with farmers being blamed for climate change.
Under Macron, EU trade deals with Canada and the Mercosur bloc of South American countries, have riled French farmers because such imports of cheaper agricultural goods are produced to lower standards, creating an uneven playing field.
They say commercial companies should be paying more for goods, and international trade deals do not work in their favor.