EU Elections: Political divide with EU Farmers and Green Deal

Farmers protest near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Source: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

The European farmers’ protests are demonstrations led by farmers all over Europe in response to the policies put forward by the European Green Deal. Starting in December 2023 until now, the most recent protests occurring a week before the European elections, these demonstrations have criticized low food prices, carbon taxes, pesticide bans, and trade with non-EU countries, amongst other issues.

The first country to protest was France, which initiated the movement in October 2023 in Occitania. In January 2024, they started a road blockade that lasted until Prime Gabriel Attal conceded to some of their demands in February 2024. Germany, Poland, and the Netherlands have also suffered different waves of demonstrations concerning subsidies for diesel, the use of nitrogen, or the importation of Ukrainian grain. The particular case of the Netherlands has led to the creation of the Farmer-Citizen Movement, a party that has achieved representation in Dutch political organizations.

The last wave of protests was organized on June 3, by Spanish and French farmers, with the clear objective of influencing the outcome of the EU elections. On both sides, the border that separates both countries was blocked, and the protesters showed support for local production, tax breaks on energy, and preference for EU products.

Ursula Von der Leyen during the Green Deal Summit 2023. Source: Michal Cizek / AFP

A threefold dilemma

These protests have displayed controversies around the European Green Deal, showing the deep divide and complex intersection between ideology, identity, and economic interests. A significant aspect to consider is the broader context of global trade and economic pressures. Farmers argue that European policies are placing them at a disadvantage compared to international competitors who do not face the same stringent environmental regulations.

For instance, imported agricultural products from countries outside the EU often come from regions with less strict environmental laws, leading to lower production costs. This discrepancy creates a market imbalance, making it harder for European farmers to compete. The protestors have highlighted that without adequate protection and support, the local agricultural sector might face decline, risking food security and the livelihoods of countless farmers. Moreover, these protests underscore the need for fair trade policies that ensure imported goods meet the same environmental standards as those required within the EU. This perspective adds another layer of complexity to the debate, emphasizing the interconnectedness of local, national, and global agricultural policies.

For this article, we present an analysis on three levels, focusing mainly on the political aspect that can hepl understanding the impact of these protests in the EU elections:

  1. Left-wing vs. right-wing ideological divide. Overall, parties that sit on the left spectrum of the political ideology advocate for stronger environmental regulations. The policies around the Green Deal are vital to combat climate change and safeguard natural resources. On the other hand, right-wing parties are more skeptical, especially when the policies affect industries and put a strain on the economy. In this context, most of the farmer protests around Europe have been supported by right-leaning parties or organizations linked to them. They have highlighted the obstacles these policies pose to the already struggling agricultural sector.
  2. Urban vs. rural divide. The prior polarization, whose divide has been deepening and widening over the last years, is fostered and replicated by the urban and rural population. Rural areas, predominantly focused on agriculture and livestock, and heavily impacted by environmental policies, are more right-wing oriented, in support of their livelihood and traditional ways of life. In contrast, urban hubs show high awareness rates for climate change and environmental degradation. The exodus from rural areas and their tendency to feel isolated exacerbates their resentment toward environmental policies and measures pushed by governments who often appear disconnected from their struggles.
  3. National vs. supranational divide. The last level of this analysis responds to how different parties perceive the division of power. Right-wing parties are often protective of the importance of national sovereignty and are skeptical of EU-level regulations, a mantra that seems to have been replicated during the farmer protests. On the other hand, left-wing parties and advocates of the Green Agenda argue that addressing climate change is a global challenge.

Evidently, the political spectrum also has a wide range of grey areas, and there have been circumstances in which right-wing parties have supported green initiatives if they aligned with national interest and left-wing parties rejected other initiatives if they favored big corporations.

Farmers block the road near the EU Parliament. Source: Nikos Oikonomou/Anadolu via Getty Images

Conclusions and steps forward

At this point, it appears that the European Green Deal cannot be a “one-size-fits-all”. The farmers’ protests have showcased the already evident political polarization that the European Union is going through. In this context, the left-right divide is exacerbated by the sub-levels of urban vs. rural and supranational vs. national. Additionally, in the recent aftermath of the EU elections, we can foresee a deeper divide than previously. Even though the current status quo can be maintained thanks to the seats obtained by EPP, S&D and Renew Europe, a small but clear shift towards the right of the political spectrum has been clearly identified, with ECR winning over 14 seats and the Greens losing roughly 17 seats, compared to pevious elections. This new panorama raises concerns abut the “ambition” of the climate and green initiatives over the next mandate.

Addressing this requires an approach that balances out inclusivity, economic support, and education. In the aftermath of the European elections, with a small majority of pro-European parties formed by EPP, SPD, and RenewEurope, possible recommendations on this matter going forward could include:

  • Inclusive and Consultative Policy Development. This could include multi-stakeholder forums with representatives of the farming community, environmental groups, industry, and policymakers to hold regular interactions that can gather both needs and practical solutions and ensure transparency.
  • Continue economic support and incentives. Mitigating the economic burden could encourage a smoother transition towards greener practices.
  • Educational programs. Expanding training programs for farmers on new greener technologies and sustainable practices could empower farmers to adapt to green policies while fostering the resilience of the agricultural sector.

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EU Elections: Political d…

by Aralda Torres time to read: 4 min