Angry European farmers are blocking freeways with tractors and spraying manure on buildings over green push

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Angry European farmers are blocking freeways with tractors and spraying manure on buildings over green push
Tractors block a highway during a farmers' protest in northeastern Spain this week.Emilio Morenatti/AP
  • European farmers have blocked roads and sprayed government buildings with manure in recent weeks.
  • They're rallying against the European Union's "Green Deal" and soaring inflation.
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Europe's farmers aren't happy — and they're using tractors, tires and manure to show it.

In recent weeks they've been taking to the streets over a string of grievances, including the European Union's efforts to go climate-neutral and high inflation that's pushed up their costs.

As well as protests in the center of cities such as Paris and Barcelona, farmers have blocked major roads with their tractors and even taken to setting hay bales alight and spraying liquid manure at government buildings to show their displeasure.

Angry European farmers are blocking freeways with tractors and spraying manure on buildings over green push
Farmers have captured France's attention by showering government offices with manure and besieging Paris with traffic-snarling barricades of tractors and hay bales.Thibault Camus/AP

What are the farmers angry about?

The main source of discontent is the Green Deal, the European Union's initiative to make Europe "climate neutral" by 2050.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago fueled double-digit inflation across the continent, with the cost of everything from grain to diesel soaring.

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Farmers say their profits aren't high enough to justify investing in sustainable agriculture and say they need more help from the EU, despite it setting aside about $300 billion of aid over the next three years.

Angry European farmers are blocking freeways with tractors and spraying manure on buildings over green push
Farmers in Italy protest the EU's agricultural policies.Gregorio Borgia/AP Photo

They're also rallying against the EU decision to sign free-trade agreements with other countries, including New Zealand, Kenya, and South America's Mercosur group, arguing that those deals will allow overseas farmers to undercut their prices.

How are they protesting?

Protesters across the continent have marched under banners reading "no farmers, no food" to show their opposition to the EU's agricultural policies.

Last week, the situation escalated when farmers from Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, and Greece all gathered at the European Parliament in Brussels where they set bonfires and hurled eggs at EU offices.

Angry European farmers are blocking freeways with tractors and spraying manure on buildings over green push
Farmers protest outside the European Parliament in Brussels.Thomas Padilla/AP

Over the past few days, further protests have broken out in Barcelona, where tractors have clogged up key roads, and Cyprus, where farmers took to the streets for the third time in eight months.

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They've also dumped tires on roads in France to demand government aid worth hundreds of millions of euros.

Angry European farmers are blocking freeways with tractors and spraying manure on buildings over green push
Tires dumped on a road in Vesoul, eastern France. SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP/Getty Images

How has the EU responded?

The EU said Wednesday that it would scrap plans to force farmers to halve their pesticide use by 2030 — one contentious element of the Green Deal.

It's also tweaked the constraints imposed by a key nature-restoration policy and punted on a requirement to force farmers to leave more of their land fallow.

Angry European farmers are blocking freeways with tractors and spraying manure on buildings over green push
Farmers in Strasbourg protest the EU's anti-pesticides proposal.Jean-Francois Badias/AP

But EU president Ursula von der Leyden has doubled down on plans to cut emissions by 90% by 2040, suggesting that she's gearing up for a longer-term fight with the agricultural sector. Politicians have been reluctant to join her in that battle.

French president Emmanuel Macron has publicly rebuked the EU deal with Mercosur, likely in a bid to quell protests at home, while right-wing leaders like Hungary's Viktor Orban have stoked tensions in a bid to boost their anti-green and anti-EU credentials.

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"The government stands together with the farmers and not against them," Cyprus' agriculture minister Maria Panayiotou said this week after protests broke out in the capital, Nicosia.

Farming subsidies accounted for almost a third of the EU's budget in 1980, but that proportion has now fallen to just under a quarter.

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