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German farmers descend on Berlin with tractors in protest against plans to scrap diesel tax break

A tractor is parked in protest at the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024.
A tractor is parked in protest at the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024. Copyright Euronews
Copyright Euronews
By Ruth Wright with AP
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The protest caps off a week-long demonstration against a plan to cut farmers' fuel subsidies.

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German farmers are descending on Berlin today in protest against the plan to scrap tax breaks on diesel used in agriculture.

Monday's demonstration caps off a week of protests across the country, which have caused major disruption.

In the coordinated action, farmers drove their tractors onto highways, slip roads and smaller roads, stopping traffic from getting through.

Protesters in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin had signs attached to their tractors with signs like 'No farmers, no future'.

Where are the farmers' protests causing disruption?

Around 3,000 tractors, 2,000 trucks and 10,000 people are expected to descend on the German capital on Monday 15 January, with many gathering on the avenue leading to the Brandenburg Gate from Sunday evening.

As the epicentre of the demonstration is now crowded, protesters have been asked by police to spread out to other areas of Berlin, including Charlottenburg.

Last week, farmers blocked motorway slip roads with hundreds of tractors in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. They were supported by haulage companies protesting against the increase in lorry tolls.

In the district of Cloppenburg in northwest Lower Saxony, a main road was blocked by 40 vehicles last Monday. In Saxony, according to police, some motorway slip roads in the Dresden area were unusable. 

Production at a Volkswagen auto plant in Emden in northwestern Germany was stopped because access roads were blocked, preventing employees from getting to work, German news agency dpa reported.

"No Farmer, no Future" is written on a sign attached to one of the tractors at a farmers' protest on Stra'e des 17. Juni in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.
"No Farmer, no Future" is written on a sign attached to one of the tractors at a farmers' protest on Stra'e des 17. Juni in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.J'rg Carstensen/dpa via AP

Why are German farmers protesting?

There was a similar protest in December when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's unpopular three-party coalition infuriated farmers by drawing up plans to abolish a car tax exemption for farming vehicles and the diesel tax breaks. The proposals were part of a package to fill a €17 billion hole in the 2024 budget.

Last week the government climbed down partially, saying that the car tax exemption would be retained and the cuts in the diesel tax breaks would be staggered over three years.

A tractor with a sign that reads 'Never bite the hand that feeds', Berlin, 8 January 2024
A tractor with a sign that reads 'Never bite the hand that feeds', Berlin, 8 January 2024Euronews

But the German Farmers' Association said it was still insisting on the plans being reversed fully and would go ahead with a “week of action” starting last Monday (8 January).

The protests are under scrutiny after a group of farmers prevented Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck from disembarking a ferry on 11 January. He was at a small North Sea port returning from a personal trip to an offshore island.

That incident drew condemnation from government and opposition figures and the farmers' association. 

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Authorities have warned that far-right groups and others could try to capitalise on the protests. Farmers' association chairman Joachim Rukwied told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that “we don't want to have right-wing and other radical groups” at the demonstrations.

Protest signs reading 'Rather dead than slave' (left) and 'Ampel, your rules are like weeds - us farmers tear them out' (right)
Protest signs reading 'Rather dead than slave' (left) and 'Ampel, your rules are like weeds - us farmers tear them out' (right)Euronews

The plan to scrap the tax breaks resulted from the need to fill a large hole in the 2024 budget.

The budget revamp that included the disputed cuts was required after Germany’s highest court annulled an earlier decision to repurpose €60 billion originally meant to cushion the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic for measures to help combat climate change and modernise the country. The manoeuvre fell afoul of Germany’s strict self-imposed limits on running up debt.

The farmers' protests comes at a time of deep general discontent with the Scholz's centre-left three-party government, which has become notorious for frequent public squabbles. Scholz acknowledged concerns that go well beyond farming subsidies, saying that crises, conflicts and worries about the future are unsettling people.

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Watch the video above to hear from farmers on 8 January, the first day of the protests.

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