Tractors Converge on Athens as Greek Farmers Join Burgeoning Protest Movement

Adam Morrow
By Adam Morrow
February 20, 2024Europe

Greek farmers converged on Athens on Feb. 20 to protest mounting energy costs and EU trade policies that they say are making their businesses untenable.

“There are many problems, most of all, fuel and energy costs,” one protesting farmer told Reuters in the Greek town of Kastro, some 75 miles north of Athens.

“Last year was catastrophic for farmers,” he lamented. “We didn’t produce grapes or olive oil, only some cotton that was bought for nothing.”

His grievances echo those articulated by farmers in Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, and Poland, where similar protests—of varying size and intensity—have erupted since the start of the year.

In the hope of defusing the crisis, the government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has initiated talks with Greek farmers’ associations. It has offered farmers limited discounts on energy bills and a one-year extension of tax breaks on agricultural diesel fuel.

NTD Photo
Greek farmers, with their tractors, protest near the Greek parliament in Athens on Feb. 20, 2024. (Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

This week, Athens said it was willing to discuss additional tax breaks in the future, but ruled out any further concessions this year.

“We have nothing more to give,” Mr. Mitsotakis said in a televised interview on Feb. 19. “I think farmers … know very well that the government has probably exceeded even their expectations, especially on the power bills issue,” he added.

Farmers have rejected the concessions, saying they don’t go far enough, a sentiment that mirrors similar negotiations in several Western European states.

During the prime minister’s interview, hundreds of farmers defiantly parked their now-familiar green tractors and trucks along several highways in central Greece. The next morning, they began driving towards the capital, where they planned to voice their mounting discontent outside the Greek parliament.

Scores of farmers also arrived by boat to Athens’ Piraeus Port from the Greek island of Crete. More were expected to come by bus—from other parts of the country—to take part in the scheduled protest.

NTD Photo
Greek farmers with their tractors take part in a protest to demand financial aid in front of the Parliament in Athens on Feb. 20, 2024. (Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images)

‘Same Problems’

Characterized by the use of agricultural vehicles to block highways, roads, and border crossings, protests by Europe’s disgruntled farmers first began in the Netherlands in 2019. Since then, they have spread to several other European countries, where farmers and other agricultural workers nurse many of the same grievances.

Early this month, farmers in Spain blocked roads nationwide to protest mounting inflation and what they see as unfair trade competition from non-EU states.

“Farmers face the same problems throughout the EU,” the vice president of a leading Spanish farmers’ association said at the time in broadcast remarks. Like their counterparts elsewhere, Spanish farmers also decry excessive EU bureaucracy and the “climate-friendly” policies espoused by Brussels.

Many protesters complain that the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, once implemented, will quickly drive them out of business. Last month, farmers in Germany also blocked roads nationwide—and engaged in other acts of civil disobedience—as part of a weeklong strike.

It culminated in a massive protest in Berlin, where thousands of farmers parked tractors and trucks near the iconic Brandenburg Gate on Jan. 15. The action was prompted by government plans to raise taxes on Germany’s agricultural sector and eliminate farming subsidies.

Berlin sought to quell farmers’ anger earlier this year by promising to keep tax exemptions in place while phasing out subsidies over three years.

But protesting farmers—backed by Germany’s farmers’ association—still demand the measures be scrapped entirely.

Farmers ‘Desperate’

Late last month, farmers in France also hit the streets, blocking roads across the country—including the capital Paris—for several days. Like their counterparts in other EU states, French farmers demand that the government curb inflation and protect local agriculture from foreign competition.

In hopes of avoiding an escalation of the situation, Paris dropped plans to phase out diesel subsidies and pledged to ease environmental restrictions on agricultural production. But farmers said the moves didn’t go far enough and vowed to continue staging protests until their grievances were addressed.

Protests in France soon spread to neighboring Belgium, where frustrated farmers converged on Zeebrugge Port, the country’s second-largest seaport.

“Farmers are really desperate,” Mark Wulfrancke, a spokesman for Belgium’s General Farmers Association, said on Jan. 30. On the same day, hundreds of angry farmers parked their tractors outside the EU Parliament in Brussels, which was hosting a summit of EU leaders.

During the summit, protesters burned large bales of hay outside the parliament building and pelted police with eggs. While EU leaders voiced sympathy for the farmers’ plight, they offered little in the way of practical solutions.

Poland-Ukraine Border Blocked

As the latest protest kicked off in Athens, a similar action was ongoing in Poland, where farmers continued to protest the influx of cheap Ukrainian grain.

Polish farmers have long decried a 2022 decision by Brussels to wave duties on Ukrainian food imports. Many protesters’ tractors carried banners that read, “With grain flowing from Ukraine, Polish farmers will go bankrupt.”

For the past several days, farmers have disrupted traffic nationwide and imposed a de facto blockade on Poland’s border with neighboring Ukraine.

Officials in Kyiv insist that Ukrainian agricultural exports to the EU’s easternmost members pose no threat to local markets. Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, recently called the ongoing protests in Poland a “political provocation aimed at dividing our nations.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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