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Analysis: How do the EU farmer protests relate to climate change?

By Orla Dwyer - The Conversation, February 5, 2024

From Berlin and Paris, to Brussels and Bucharest, European farmers have driven their tractors to the streets in protest over recent weeks. 

According to reports, these agricultural protesters from across the European Union have a series of concerns, including competition from cheaper imports, rising costs of energy and fertiliser, and environmental rules. 

Farmers’ groups in countries including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Poland and Romania have all been protesting over the past couple of months. 

The UK’s Sunday Telegraph has tried to frame the protests as a “net-zero revolt” with several other media outlets saying the farmers have been rallying against climate or “green” rules. 

Carbon Brief has analysed the key demands from farmer groups in seven countries to determine how they are related to greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, biodiversity or conservation. 

The findings show that many of the issues farmers are raising are directly and indirectly related to these issues. But some are not related at all. Several are based on policy measures that have not yet taken effect, such as the EU’s nature restoration law and a South American trade agreement. 

No Food Without Farmers, No Farmers Without Nature

By Enrico Somaglia - Green European Journal, February 13, 2024

With farmers taking to the streets and making headlines all over Europe, national governments and EU institutions are rushing to make concessions to appease them. But are the solutions offered what farmers and agricultural workers really need? We asked Enrico Somaglia, deputy general secretary of the European Federation of Food, Agriculture, and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT).

Green European Journal: Is there a common thread among the farmers’ protests happening across Europe?

Enrico Somaglia: The protests are linked to different national circumstances, such as overregulation, subsidy cuts, or imports of Ukrainian grain to the EU. But there is definitely a frustration towards a common enemy, the European Union, the Green Deal and its Farm To Fork strategy. Of course, not every farmer sees them as enemies: the agriculture sector is very heterogeneous. Small and big farmers are organised in different ways, they have different representatives. A minority within the sector opposes any kind of green policies because it is resistant to change. As trade unions, we firmly reject this stance.

On the other hand, a significant part of the farmers are against the Green Deal because they perceive it as something that has been unilaterally imposed on them. Fortunately, there is still room to improve green policies to make sure they are more socially acceptable. Trade unions see this as the way forward to build a different agriculture sector which is not only more sustainable from an environmental point of view, but is also a better place to work. To achieve that, we need measures for a truly just transition. We should not forget that if the condition of farmers is challenging, that of agricultural workers is simply unbearable. A vast proportion of seasonal workers, migrant workers, and daily labourers still face unrecorded working hours, appalling housing situations, and exploitative working relationships. The green transition can be an opportunity to create better jobs, but it needs to be stronger on the social side.

Are Europe’s Farmers Protesting Green Reforms? It’s Complicated

Images and Words by Rachel Sherrington - DeSmog, February 7, 2024

Across France, Italy and Belgium last week thousands of farmers descended on capital cities to express their deep discontent with the European food system.

The scenes were dramatic. Parked tractors brought traffic to a standstill in Paris, and on Thursday burning piles of hay and debris sent up huge, dark plumes of smoke in Brussels. The protests show no sign of slowing down and are expected this week across Italy, Slovenia and Spain.

Farmers’ demonstrations have been portrayed as a revolt against net zero, by the media and far-right groups.

This is the message received by governments – and they are acting on it. So far, the farmers have won key concessions, with the EU decision on Tuesday to drop its plans to cut pesticide use, hot on the heels of the same move by France on Friday, despite numbers of birds and pollinators plummeting in Europe.

Yet the reality on the ground in Brussels last week was more mixed. While Europe’s largest farming union, Copa-Cogeca, paints environmental measures as an enemy to farmers’ prosperity, an analysis by Carbon Brief has found that a fifth of farmer concerns were not on green issues, relating instead to high production costs, food pricing and trade-related concerns.

Other groups of farmers came out onto the streets of Brussels with a different message. They say the EU should see the protests as a sign to do more, not less, to protect the environment.

“We are very clear that as farmers we want to take action to struggle against the climate crisis,” said Morgan Ody, a farmer from Brittany who belongs to the European chapter of La Via Campesina (ECVC).

Ody travelled to Belgium with over a thousand farmers connected to Via Campesina – and other allied national smallholder farmer groups from Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany – to protest last Thursday.

Via Campesina and its smallholder allies also insist that ambitious action to address climate breakdown and biodiversity loss must go hand in hand with tackling other farmer concerns – such as low pay. Difficult working conditions, they say, are also at the root of the frustrations of many who showed up to demonstrate.

Rejection of free trade agreements and the demand for a decent income at the heart of farmers’ mobilizations in Europe

By European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) - La Via Campesina, January 25, 2024

In Germany, France, Poland, Romania, Belgium and beyond, we are seeing increasing numbers of farmers taking to the streets. Low incomes and a lack of future prospects for the vast majority of farmers is at the root of this discontent, which is largely linked to the neo-liberal policies the European Union has pursued for decades. ECVC is calling for these protests to be taken seriously and for a change in the direction of European agricultural and food policies: it is time to put an end to Free Trade Agreements and resolutely set out on the road to food sovereignty.

Huge numbers of farmers have been taking action across different European countries in recent weeks. Many farmers are struggling under the pressure of neoliberal policies that prevent fair prices. Debt and work overload are skyrocketing, while farm incomes are plummeting.

European farmers need real answers to their problems, not smoke and mirrors. We demand an immediate end to negotiations on the FTA with MERCOSUR countries and a moratorium on all other FTAs currently being negotiated. We demand the effective application of the Unfair Trading Prices (UTP) directive and a ban on selling below production costs at European level, following the example of Spain. Prices paid to farmers must cover production costs and ensure a decent income. Our incomes depend on agricultural prices, and it is unacceptable that these should be subject to financial speculation.

We therefore call for agricultural policies based on market regulation, with prices that cover production costs and public stocks. We call for sufficient budget to allow CAP subsidies to be redistributed to support the transition to an agricultural model capable of meeting the challenges of the climate and biodiversity crises. All farmers who already practice environmentally-friendly farming practices and all those who decide to embark on an agroecological, more sustainable transition process must be supported and accompanied in the long term. It is unacceptable that under the current CAP, a minority of very large farms receive hundreds of thousands of euros in public aid while the majority of European farmers receive little to no aid at all.

ECVC is concerned to see attempts from the far right to exploit and use this anger and the mobilisations to drive its own agenda, including denying climate change, calling for lower environmental standards and blaming migrant workers in rural areas, all of which has nothing to do with farmers’ interests nor improves their future prospects. On the contrary, denying the realities of the climate crisis risks trapping farmers in a succession of increasingly intense disasters, from heatwaves and droughts to floods and storms. We need to take action, and we farmers are ready to make the necessary changes to tackle environmental, climate and food problems but this will not be possible as long as we are forced to produce at low prices in a globalised and deregulated market. Similarly, migrant workers today play a fundamental role both in agricultural production and in the agri-food industry: without these workers, we would be short of labour forces in Europe to produce and process food. The rights of agricultural workers must be fully respected.

ECVC is calling on political decision-makers at European level to act quickly to respond to the anger and concerns of farmers. We need a real change in agricultural policy that puts farmers at the heart of policy-making and gives us prospects for the future. ECVC proposes real solutions to this crisis, described in our Manifesto for agricultural transition in the face of systemic climate crises.

Big 3 Say Shorter Work Week is Unreasonable - But They Do it in Europe

La Via Campesina and ECVC express their dismay at the authoritarian drift in France

By staff - La Via Campesina, June 28, 2023

Bagnolet | 28 June 2023: Instead of finding real answers to the environmental, social and democratic crises, the French government is choosing to imprison activists and ban movements critical of the extractivist agro-industrial model.

On 21 June, the French government announced the dissolution of the movement Les Soulèvements de la Terre, which campaigns against land and water grabbing and the destruction of ecosystems. That same week, dozens of activists were arrested by the anti-terrorist police, on the pretext that they had taken part in demonstrations against mega-basins, extractivist industries or agro-industry and its pollution. On June 28th, two peasant trade unionists from the Confédération Paysanne, Nicolas Girod and Benoît Jaunet, along with Julien LeGuet, spokesperson for the collective Bassines non merci, were arrested by the police for their involvement in organizing these collective gatherings as representatives of their respective organizations. They were released later in the day but received court summonses for the month of September. Such acts of repression against legitimate protests are unacceptable and unjust, creating a negative precedent and seeking to intimidate all defenders of fundamental rights. In this context it seems that the FNSEA, a French farmers’ union, has also been calling for the dissolution of La Confédération Paysanne.

We, La Via Campesina and European Coordination Via Campesina, stand together with our member organisation in France, La Confédération Paysanne. We firmly reject these threats and will act decisively in Europe and around the world to ensure that La Confédération Paysanne and its members can continue to defend peasant agriculture and its workers.

We express our support for Les Soulèvements de la Terre (the Uprisings of the Earth ). These tens of thousands of young people mobilising to ensure land and water are shared fairly, which is an expression of the acute sense of responsibility that young people have in the face of social inequalities and the destruction of ecosystems.

We call on the French Government to cease its violations of human rights, and in particular of the rights recognised in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other Rural Workers (UNDROP), such as freedom of thought, opinion and expression, freedom of association and the right to participation.

We call on our member organisations and allied organisations to mobilise in support of the
Confédération Paysanne and social movements in France, in particular by sending letters to French embassies and the French government and by organising rallies in front of French embassies.

France: Confederation Paysanne and CETIM echo UN Expert group’s concern about criminalization of social movements by the French State.

By staff - La Via Campesina, June 17, 2023

UN EXPERTS’ COMMUNIQUE: Will the rights of trade unions and social and environmental movements be respected by the French government?

On 15 June 2023, seven independent experts from the United Nations expressed their concerni at allegations of excessive use of force during the recent demonstrations against pension reform and mega-water basin projects in France.

“Lack of restraint in the use of force against members of civil society who are peacefully demanding their participation in decision-making processes concerning their future, access to natural resources, protection of human rights, dignity and equality, would not only be anti-democratic, but deeply worrying for the rule of law”, the experts said.

The Confédération Paysanne and CETIM welcome this position and call on the French government to heed these warnings. The concerns expressed are in line with those we voiced in our submission to the UN experts on the occasion of the International Day of Peasant Struggles (17 April). Indeed, mega-basin projects are being carried out at the expense of the right to water of all peasants in the territories because they reinforce the problem of drought and the increasing scarcity of access to water. Peasant organizations and other sectors of civil society have mobilized to question these projects and demand respect for human and environmental rights, suffering unprecedented repression.

This communique from the UN experts has a very particular resonance, given that mobilizations are continuing around water and land issues in many areas, and at a time when the criminalization and repression of these mobilizations and of trade unions and social and environmental movements are still the order of the day.

Human rights issues, and more specifically the rights to water, food, freedom of expression and demonstration, cannot be scorned and repressed in this way. We cannot accept the threats to dissolve the Soulèvements de la Terre movement. In view of the above, we urge the French authorities to honour their international human rights commitments, as recalled by the UN experts.

The Confédération Paysanne is continuing its trade union action to obtain a moratorium on mega-basin projects and for the establishment of a dialogue on the management and sharing of water in France, a sine qua non for the respect of human rights.

ETUI training on energy poverty

By Ioannis Gkoutzamanis and Franklin Kimbimbi - European Trade Union Institute, May 2, 2023

In February 2023, the Education Department of the ETUI, in partnership with the French General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and the Institute of the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE), led a training activity at the CGT training centre in the suburbs of Paris called 'Energy poverty in the spotlight'.

Energy poverty is a pressing issue in the EU that can seriously affect the quality of life of its residents. Energy poverty is the inability to access and afford adequate energy services such as warmth, cooling and lighting. In the EU, at least 50 million people lived in energy poverty before Covid-19 (EPSU, 2021), with approximately 25 million households at risk of suffering from its effects. Lower-income families who cannot meet their basic energy needs are the most affected. The causes of energy poverty are multidimensional: low incomes, poor-quality homes, high energy prices, and energy-inefficient appliances.

Despite the complexity of issues behind energy poverty, this phenomenon is not set in stone. Civil society organisations such as consumer associations, alone or in association with trade unions, can play a critical role in reducing energy poverty by raising awareness, empowering communities, providing education and training, conducting research, and advocating for policies and programmes that address the issue:

  1. Advocacy and awareness-raising: civil society organisations and trade unions can raise awareness about the impacts of energy poverty and advocate for policies and programmes that address it, including increased investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and access to affordable energy for low-income households.
  2. Community engagement and empowerment: civil society organisations and trade unions can work with communities to identify their energy needs and help them develop solutions appropriate to their context, such as developing community-led renewable energy projects or energy-saving initiatives.
  3. Education and training: civil society organisations and trade unions can provide education and training to individuals and communities on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy management, helping them to reduce their energy consumption and costs.
  4. Research and data collection civil society organisations and trade unions can conduct research and collect data on the impact of energy poverty on individuals and communities, helping to inform policies and programs to address it.
  5. Partnerships and collaboration: civil society organisations and trade unions can partner with governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders to mobilise resources and expertise to address energy poverty and ensure sustainable and effective solutions.
  6. Direct assistance and support: civil society organisations can provide direct assistance and support to low-income households, including the provision of energy-efficient appliances, insulation, and other measures that can help reduce energy costs and improve living conditions

Tackling energy poverty in the EU requires a coordinated effort from governments, businesses and communities. By implementing a combination of strategies (e.g. increasing access to energy-efficient housing, or implementing social policies targeted at low-income families, older people, or those living in remote areas), it will be possible to reduce energy poverty and ensure that everyone in Europe has access to affordable and sustainable energy.

Further information:

In Largest May Day Turnout Since Pandemic, Workers Around the World March for Better Conditions

By Olivia Rosane - Common Dreams, May 1, 2023

Marches from South Korea to Italy called for higher wages and targeted anti-worker policies.

Workers from Japan to France took to the street on Monday for the largest May Day demonstrations since Covid-19 restrictions pushed people inside three years ago.

Marchers expressed frustration with both their nations' policies—such as French President Emmanuel Macron's raising of the retirement age in March—and global issues like the rising cost of living and the climate crisis.

"The price of everything has increased except for our wages. Increase our minimum wages!" one activist speaking in Seoul told the crowd, as TheAssociated Pressreported. "Reduce our working hours!"

South Korea's protests were the largest in the nation since the pandemic, with organizers predicting 30,000 people each would attend the two biggest rallies planned for the nation's capital alone, Al Jazeerareported.

The Problem with Only Striking

By IWW Bruxelles - Industrial Worker, April 26, 2023

As the 12th day of the strike against the pension reform in France comes to an end, while the media are launching their usual refrains about violence (which should be condemned,) and the number of demonstrators is decreasing (or not) let’s take the time to analyse the consequences of the orders coming from above and the systematic recourse to the strike as the only mode of action.

It’s obvious that today in France, blockades and sabotage are taking place in some places, but we have to admit that the strike dynamic is omnipresent and that it seems, in the eyes of the majority unions, to be the only way to make the government bend. But it has its limits, which are significant.

First of all, it burns us out as workers, because a lot of effort rests on a few people. The trade union dynamic in France is such that the organisation of the struggle is based on few people. As a result, militant burn-out is just as likely as Macronist repression.

Then economically, faced with the “wait and let rot” strategy from the other side, it seems difficult to believe that our most precariously-situated colleagues and comrades will be able to hold out on strike for long. We know that solidarity and strike funds are being organised, but will it be enough?

Finally the “others.” We know that a very favourable opinion exists in favour of the struggle against the pension reform and this is not by any means negligible. But what does this “silent majority” do? Not the strike in any case. Indeed, not everyone can go on strike, because it costs money, because we are afraid of the employers’ reprisals or of the police violence, or for all sorts of other reasons.

If the strike doesn’t suit these people, how can we still put pressure together? We have to find techniques of struggle that do not exclude a part of the population and that can have a global effect against the political strategy of the Macronists.

The idea that all workers who feel concerned can participate within their means in a struggle they believe in should be a priority objective!


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