Images of hundreds of tractors blocking highway entrances and marching through many cities in Germany: On Monday January 8, German farmers began a week of social protest against the policies of the Scholz government.

Led at the call of the German Farmers’ Union (DBV), the mobilization aims to protest against the government’s plan to remove tax breaks on diesel for agricultural vehicles and is widespread across the country. Authorities reported severe road traffic disruptions on Monday morning in almost all regions, from Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria in the south to Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia. , in the West, up to the north of the country.

In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, all motorway entrances were blocked, said police in Rostock (North-East). The first convoys of tractors entered the metropolises of Hamburg and Bremen in the North in the early morning, partly paralyzing traffic. In Cologne (West) local police reported a “significantly” larger gathering than expected, as some 500 tractors arrived in town, compared to the 120 previously announced by farmers. In Berlin, the tractors took up position in the heart of the capital, near the Brandenburg Gate.

Plan providing for a reduction in subsidies to the sector

The anger of farmers comes following the presentation by the government of a plan to reduce subsidies to the agricultural sector, due to a call to order from constitutional judges relating to the country’s budgetary rules.

Unveiled a month ago, the latter plans in particular to remove the tax breaks on diesel hitherto in force for the sector and to put an end to the exemption from car tax for agricultural vehicles. This is in order to fill a hole of 17 billion euros in the 2024 budget.

While the sector’s protest has only grown in recent weeks, around thirty angry farmers attacked the Minister of the Economy, Robert Habeck (Greens) on Thursday, preventing the ferry on which he was to dock, while returning from a few days’ leave on Hallig Hooge, a tourist island in the North Sea.

Condemning this violent attack, the government nevertheless tried to rectify the situation. He announced in the evening that the tax advantage granted on fuel would finally be eliminated gradually, over three years, and not all at once, as initially planned. He also conceded the maintenance of the exemption from automobile tax on agricultural vehicles, abandoning this aspect of the budgetary reform.

But this compromise was deemed insufficient by the profession. The DBV called for a complete reversal of these measures and a “week of action” starting Monday, to put pressure on the government.

Warning against a recovery of the far right

The Minister of Finance, Christian Lindner (Liberal Democrat, FDP), sharply criticized on Saturday the form of the protests carried out so far, for a sector that he already considers “highly subsidized”, and condemned the blockade actions, which he considers to be “disproportionate”. For her part, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (Social Democrat, SPD) urged farmers not to block ambulance lanes.

“We must assume that right-wing extremists are infiltrating the demonstrations” in order “to attack the state by defaming certain political leaders,” she also warned to the Rheinische Post newspaper on Sunday. The president of the German Farmers’ Union, Joachim Rukwied, assured RBB Inforadio on Monday “to ensure that we are not infiltrated” by such groups.

On Monday, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party notably thanked a member of a convoy on X for his sign calling for new elections, this call echoing its position.

In addition to potential disruption caused by farmers’ protests, German travelers will face a nearly three-day strike, from Wednesday to Friday, in the rail sector. A union representing a large part of the country’s train drivers has announced it is stepping up its action against state rail operator Deutsche Bahn over higher pay demands.