Thousands of angry farmers descended on Berlin with their tractors and loudly booed a government minister on Monday, rounding off a week of nationwide protests against plans to roll back tax breaks for agriculture.
More than 5,000 honking tractors blocked streets, as the head of the farmers’ association vowed to push on with demands to overturn the government’s cuts.
Finance Minister Christian Lindner put up a robust defence of the government’s proposals at the protest, insisting they were about “how we can get out of a difficult situation together”.
But he was met with boos and whistles when he took to the podium, with protesters chanting “liar” and calling for the government to be ousted.
“For me, the government must resign. They are no longer capable of leading us,” Paul Brzezinski, 73, a dairy farmer based south-east of Berlin, told AFP.
Farmers began a week of protests on January 8 over plans to axe certain subsidies for agriculture, after a court ruling forced the government to find savings in the 2024 budget.
Around 100,000 tractors took to the streets over the course of the protests, according to the German Farmers Association (DBV).
The rallies prompted the government to partially walk back on the cuts, promising to reinstate a discount on vehicle tax and to phase out a diesel subsidy over several years instead of immediately.
But farmers say the moves did not go far enough and are urging Berlin to completely reverse the plans.
“It’s not just about the most recent cuts. That was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Hendrik Pferdmenges, 45, a crop farmer from Hanover.
“We have lost too many subsidies in recent years, and there is so much regulation and bureaucracy that at some point we will no longer be able to cope,” he said.
“If I had to describe in one word why I am here, then it would be ‘future’,” said Henrike Boerstling, 26, a crop farmer from Lower Saxony.
“I want my children to be able to become farmers one day. I want to be able to take over the farm from my father. I want to be able to run it properly and invest in my business,” she said.
Some protesters on Monday were arrested for setting off firecrackers, police said.
After meeting with representatives of the farmers, senior party figures from the coalition government promised a new package of measures to help the sector in future.
But DBV leader Joachim Rukwied said farmers would continue to fight for the diesel subsidy “as a matter of priority… And then we can talk about other topics”.
The farmers’ demos have come at a time when approval ratings for Chancellor Olaf Scholz‘s uneasy three-way coalition are at an all-time low.
In a recent poll for the Bild daily, 64 percent of Germans said they would like to see a change of government.
The German Handball Federation apologised on Monday after Scholz was booed during Germany’s European championship match against North Macedonia.
Workers from various sectors, from metallurgy and transport to education, have staged protests in recent weeks amid struggling economic growth and rising prices.
Official data on Monday showed the German economy shrank by 0.3 percent in 2023 as costly energy, high interest rates and cooling foreign demand took their toll.
The farmers’ rallies have also attracted far-right demonstrators, sparking fears that extremists are seeking to exploit the protest movement.
They are accused of being behind controversial stunts such as setting up gallows on the side of motorways and stopping Economy Minister Robert Habeck from disembarking from a ferry.
Pferdmenges said far-right protesters represented only a “very small number” of people at the farmers’ protests.
“We’re not right-wing extremists in any way. It’s just fear-mongering by the politicians,” he said.