Thousands of farmers across Europe have demonstrated in recent days, from Romania and Poland to France and Germany. The protests have been co-opted by far-right movements seeking to exploit farmers’ discontent for political gain ahead of the European elections in June.
The reasons for the protests are linked to specific situations such as over-regulation, the introduction of taxes on tractor fuel or Brussels’ decision to suspend import duties on Ukrainian goods. At the same time, there is a common thread running through these protests: strong opposition to the EU’s Green Deal and Farm to Fork ambitions.
EFFAT shares some of the farmers’ concerns, particularly when it comes to the low-income small farmers receive for their work, unfair competition from third countries and the lack of just transition measures to implement the Green Deal targets. We stress that if conditions for small farmers are difficult, those for farm workers are simply unbearable. However, it must be clear that the main challenge facing the European agricultural sector is not the farm-to-fork strategy, but the unfair distribution of wealth throughout the food chain. While retail chains, big agrochemical companies and the shareholders of food giants make record profits every year, agricultural and food workers and small farmers struggle to put food on their tables. The starting point for tackling this unacceptable paradox is to address systemic issues such as the concentration of power throughout the food chain, speculation in food commodity markets, an unsustainable approach to trade agreements and the financialisation of the agri-food sector.
We regret that these issues are not sufficiently highlighted in these farmers’ protests.
The Farm to Fork Strategy is not the problem, but it is part of the solution as it shows the way forward to make our agricultural sector more sustainable.
At the same time, green targets cannot be imposed unilaterally from Brussels, otherwise they would clearly lack social acceptance, as is currently the case.
The way to reverse this perception is not to abandon these objectives, but to implement them through just transition measures that take into account the interests of farm workers, small farmers and rural communities as a whole, as EFFAT has called for. This requires concrete measures such as implementing environmental policies through rigorous socio-economic impact assessments, involving the social partners in the management of the transition and linking the provision of public funds for the green transition to social conditions. In addition, investment in training, social security and job-to-job transition pathways should be strengthened to protect the jobs and incomes of agricultural workers.
But all this won’t be achieved if Europe returns to austerity and peace is not restored in Europe and globally.
A few months before the EU elections, EFFAT urges democratic political parties to put just transition at the top of their political agenda. A new narrative needs to be built to undermine the arguments of the extreme right. The green and digital transition must be seen by workers as an opportunity to create more and better jobs, not as a threat. For this to happen, an ideological approach to the green transition should be abandoned in favour of a pragmatic one that offers concrete answers and solutions to those who fear for their future.