It matters quite a bit. Forty demonstrators with flags and banners or forty demonstrating farmers with their tractors. You walk past the first group with a shrug. The second group inspires fear.
Of course, that shouldn’t be the deciding factor. It’s about the content. And there is quite a lot to discuss about that. Farmers in Germany are taking to the streets because the government wants to abolish subsidies on diesel.
Read that again carefully: subsidy on diesel. Consumers pay taxes (excise duties) on petrol and diesel, these farmers receive subsidies. It is good to put an end to this for several reasons.
But also look at the budget of the European Union, just under 200 billion per year. Half goes to agriculture. And that has been the case for decades. There is no sector that has done better thanks to the European Union than agriculture. That’s not exactly the impression you get when you see all those tractors advancing.
All those billions that have flown in that direction do not alter the fact that the signal that farmers have sent in recent days has been clear: the European regulatory burden is far too high. That should be a lot less ounces. And at least as important, the differences between countries need to be looked at more closely. What is good for French farmers does not necessarily have to work out well in the Netherlands.
European leaders sat down with farmers and committed to reducing the regulatory burden. Outgoing Minister Adema is using the protests to sit down with Dutch farmers to talk. He wants to hear from them how they think they can contribute to the government’s climate objectives. He will go to Brussels again with that package of measures.
That sounds much better than imposing uniform rules for the whole of Europe from above. It is also encouraging to hear that farmers realize that things must be more sustainable. For example, that nitrogen emissions must be reduced. Because that remains essential, no matter how large the tractors are.