In Halle, Belgium, angry farmers used giant yellow letters to write a message to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the Paris-to-Brussels highway: “Ursula, We are here!” Their message conveyed defiance and desperation, with farmers demanding better prices and less bureaucracy.
Farmers across Europe are enraged, feeling abandoned and mistreated by the European Union. The once-promising profession of farming has been met with indifference and aloofness from EU leaders. As EU subsidies were plentifully available, complaints were contained, but that was then. Today’s situation sees small and family farmers facing financial hardships, even with bureaucratic rules and relaxed import restrictions benefiting global farming powerhouses.
The EU had promoted farming to eradicate famine and poverty after World War II, leading to widespread financial success for many family farmers. However, the vision of EU farming has shifted to an economy of scale, favoring larger farms and standardized rules, alienating small farmers. The implementation of more costly rules and regulations, global import pressures, and the impact of climate change have pushed European farmers to their breaking point.
The current situation has prompted EU leaders to develop proposals to support struggling farmers, with the upcoming parliamentary elections providing a window of opportunity for change. As the far right continues to gain traction in European politics, traditional parties are faced with the challenge of retaining the support of farmers. In response to the escalating crisis, the European Commission has made proposals to shield EU farmers from cheap Ukrainian imports and bypass certain environmental measures, while individual countries like France have promised assistance and support for their farmers.
Despite mounting frustrations, the protests have been handled with care, reflecting a shift from the violent clashes of the past. Authorities in Belgium even permitted a fries stand to set up shop on a main highway that farmers had blockaded to ensure that the protesters were well fed.