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"Don't let us become more like the United States." This was the message from German agriculture minister, Cem Özdemir, regarding the farmer protests that have shaken Germany for months. Farmers spoke out and organized against planned tax hikes on agricultural vehicles and diesel fuel amid a cost-of-living crisis already stressing German life.   

"This is a dangerous rift that can lead to conditions like those in the USA," Özdemir told German news. "People no longer talk to each other, they no longer believe each other and they accuse each other of all the evil in the world." The goal must be to "keep the country together in the center.” 

It is a convenient cop-out for a German cabinet member to distract from the problems with its own government's policies by pointing the finger at American political polarization. In truth, the two issues have nothing in common, and German farmers are right to be upset. 

For many years now, German and EU policy has reduced the toolbox of crop protection chemicals that farmers can use on their fields to protect yields. The government has been adamant about getting herbicide glyphosate banned across Europe, despite ample evidence of its safety, a fact acknowledged by local and EU-wide regulators. Now that farmers are treading water and only live comfortably in above-average harvest seasons, Germany thought it opportune to fill the coffers of the treasury with higher taxes on diesel and tractors. 

When the farmers started protesting on the streets of Berlin, the government and its apologists initially shifted blame. The farmers were either “entitled”, since they'd had a good harvest in 2023, or they were not participating enough in the environmental transition in the country. Environmental lobby group, Greenpeace, argued that farmers should switch out their diesel tractors for electric ones instead, forgetting to mention that those often come at double the acquisition price. Germany also has amongst the highest electricity prices in Europe.

Under political pressure from the protests, Berlin eventually gave in, dropped the tax hikes on tractors, and promised to phase out tax breaks on diesel over a longer period of time. However, farmers have promised to keep protesting, as the phase-outs will eventually overlap with bad harvest years and bankruptcy will follow for many farmers living on the financial edge. This has put an already tedious government coalition under strain 

80 percent of Germans who have no connection to the agricultural sector express support for the farmer protests.

In a way, minister Özdemir is correct. The political environment in Germany is badly polarized. But unlike the American boogeyman he is alluding to, the polarization is between his government coalition and everyone else. The same is currently happening in France, Poland, and Romania, where farmers are protesting the effects of EU regulation and dwindling margins on their products.

For over ten years, consecutive German and EU governments have pursued a devastating green agenda that has led to high fuel prices, high electricity prices, and high gas prices. Germany had made itself dependent on Russian gas, then phased out perfectly operational nuclear power plants, and then decided that all the taxpayers needed to pay even more for the privilege of having amongst the highest energy costs on the continent. As a result, social democrats and environmentalists have become unpopular, and risk defeat at the ballot box.

European leaders can approach this problem in one of two ways: either they recognize that the farming sector is overregulated and give it a path towards ending reliance on subsidies, understand that energy security and reduced global warming emissions require the use of nuclear power, and provide the baseline for a successful industrial nation, or will they just write-off everyone who disagrees with them as far-right extremists?


Which way will they choose?

Bill Wirtz is the senior policy analyst at the Consumer Choice Center, focusing on new technology, agriculture, trade, and lifestyle regulations. He recently published "No Copy-paste: What not to Emulate from Europe's Agriculture Regulation."

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