OTTAWA — Tractorcades have rolled across Europe this winter as tens of thousands of angry farmers protest the European Union’s green- and climate-driven policies that have roiled producers from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. Beyond tying up highways and city streets with farm machinery, disgruntled European farmers have sprayed manure, thrown eggs and set fire to tires and hay bales outside public buildings, including the EU parliament in Brussels.
In December, German farmers kicked off the latest round of demonstrations, following the example of their Dutch comrades who rocked the Netherlands’ political establishment in huge protests over planned nitrogen-emission restrictions and forced farm buyouts. From Germany, the ongoing protests have spread to France, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Scotland. The movement has since boomeranged back to the Netherlands where farmers were recently captured on video hosing down a street with manure outside a provincial building in Utrecht.
Don’t expect the militancy gripping European agriculture to jump the Atlantic and land in Ontario farm country anytime soon. In part, that’s because of fallout from the trucker’s freedom convoy two years ago, Prince Edward County crop farmer Lloyd Crowe agrees.
“There’s no appetite for it,” Crowe admitted, though he’s inspired by the video footage coming out of Europe. He wishes he could hop on a plane “just to support” his European counterparts. “The pictures almost bring a tear to your eye, 1000-acre fields full of tractors’ flashing lights. It’s so well organized.”
Crowe marvelled: “This isn’t just a small group of 100 farmers. It’s everyone who’s got a tractor, and it’s every nation. I watch with amazement for the bravery they have, because we have people (in Canada) thrown in jail, dragged out of trucks for nothing, for a peaceful protest,” he adds, referring to the events that ended the Ottawa convoy in February 2022.
He suggested that Ontario farmers are simply not as apt to rise up against a growing environmental burden — including the federal carbon tax — unlike Europeans who still have some collective memory about starving during the Second World War. By contrast, “most of us in Canada, we’ve never had it very hard.”
A Southwestern Ontario dairy farmer, speaking on condition of anonymity, echoed that sentiment. “We still have it too good here,” he said.
Harold Jonker — a Southwestern Ontario trucker who grew up on a farm and calls himself a “farmer at heart” — agreed that the Ottawa convoy experience makes a European-style farmers’ protest less likely at this point, though he’s inspired by the news from across the pond.
“I kind of feel like I want to talk to some of them (Ontario farmers) and tell them, guys, let’s get going here,” he said.
Even though a court ruled that using the Emergencies Act was illegal, the government got what it wanted by scaring off future protests, observed Jonker, a Freedom Convoy participant still awaiting trial on a handful of charges in connection with the event. “But at the same time … for me, just to sit quietly and do nothing has always been a bit of a frustration, too.”
In Europe, farmers are upset about added costs that are playing out somewhat differently in each country — but all driven by the EU’s ‘green deal’ policies and other top-down decisions made in Brussels. That includes opening the EU borders to discounted Ukrainian grain normally headed to other world markets if not for the war with Russia.
The planned taxation of farm diesel fuel in Germany and France has driven a lot of the unrest in those countries. While the mainstream media has portrayed the German farmers as unhappy over a lost “tax break,” Dutch agricultural journalist Eva Vlaardingerbroek explained on popular Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson’s podcast that there’s more to the grievance. The German governing coalition, which includes a strong Green party contingent, incensed farmers by intending to cut “climate unfriendly subsidies” including agricultural diesel in a bid to reduce the country’s massive deficit.
“So the fact that they came after the farmers … to try to fill their own gap in their own budget due to their own mismanagement, and they now target the people that provide us with our daily meals, that initially sparked a lot of anger,” Vlaardingerbroek said.
By the end of January, the protests gridlocking France cajoled the French government to abandon its plan to tax agricultural diesel fuel.
European farmers are blaming the “farm to fork” agenda — part of the EU Green Deal — for policies causing farmer hardship. The agenda demands by 2030 a 50 % cut in pesticide use, the conversion of 25 % of EU farmland to organic production and a 20 % cut in fertilizer use. The agenda also requires 10 % of European farmland to be set aside for biodiversity — woodlots and the like — and would compel 30 % of all European land and oceans to be left in their natural state.