What is the farmers protest about?

What is the farmers protest about?

Malta like the rest of Europe, has experienced another farmers protest against a range of European Union policies, which they claim pose a threat to their livelihoods and the sustainability of agriculture.

In the Netherlands, the focus has been on opposing nitrogen emission reduction measures, including mandates to reduce livestock populations. German farmers are rallying against plans to cut diesel subsidies, a move they see as part of broader economic pressures exacerbated by low wages, rising costs, and stringent EU environmental regulations. Meanwhile, in France, protests have escalated with actions such as throwing manure at government buildings, driven by concerns over low food prices, proposed cuts in diesel state subsidies, and the controversial EU-Mercosur free trade agreement. 

This farmers’ protest underscores deep-seated frustrations with policies that farmers believe unfairly affect them, from subsidy cuts that raise operational costs to fears of increased competition from the EU-Mercosur agreement, which they argue could put them at a disadvantage against South American agricultural competitors. Collectively, these demonstrations highlight significant discontent within the agricultural sector, pointing to broader issues of economic sustainability and fair competition in the face of domestic and EU-wide regulations.

These protests share common themes, such as the argument that the European agricultural sector is facing unfair competition. The situation has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine as the EU has removed barriers to imports from the war-torn country to help their economy. This has disrupted trade flows, as increasing the flow of crops into the EU is causing concern, especially for Polish and Hungarian workers.

The EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement and the farmers protest

A free trade agreement (FTA) is a pact between two or more countries aimed at eliminating barriers to the import and export of goods and services, making trade between them easier and more cost-effective. The EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement is an agreement, concluded in principle in 2019, between the EU and and the South American Mercosur countries: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

By definition, the farmer’s worries with regards to the EU-Mercosur Free in itself is understandable, as increased competition is a concern a region’s operators have to face when opening up its borders (similar to what happened when Malta joined the EU.) The issue however is that Mercosur’s agricultural regulations are still weak, when compared to the EU, putting European farmers at a disadvantage.

From the farmers’ perspective, the EU is arguably being contradictory, if not hypocritical, when comparing the EU’s environmental and social standards to the concessions made to Mercosur countries. 

This raises concerns about the EU’s commitment to its stated environmental, climate, and social objectives, especially considering potential negative impacts like increased deforestation and the use of antibiotics and pesticides associated with the agreement.

Other issues with Mercosur

The agreement has been subject to criticism from various quarters, including environmentalists and human rights activists. There are concerns about its potential environmental impact, particularly in terms of increased deforestation in the Amazon and other critical ecosystems in South America.

EU Competitiveness

This farmers’ protest and the agricultural unrest is just one facet of a broader narrative in which the EU’s policies are perceived to undermine its own competitiveness on the international stage. Beyond agriculture, the EU faces challenges in other areas such as energy policy, and the digital sector. These industries are facing rigorous laws and standards, which, while protecting consumer privacy, are argued to hamper innovation and the growth of tech companies within the EU as compared to their less-regulated international counterparts. 

These instances highlight a growing concern that the EU’s regulatory environment, despite aiming for high standards of environmental protection, social welfare, and consumer privacy, might be inadvertently placing it at a disadvantage in the global economic arena.

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