Challenges and Demands: Understanding the Farmers' Protests Shaping Europe's Agricultural Landscape


By Miguel Suárez 


As almost every EU citizen knows already, European farmers have stood up against the situation of injustice they live in, as a result of some decisions taken by the European Institutions. Protests have been taking place on the continent since at least 2019; however, since February 1st 2024, they have intensified notably, especially in Brussels, where the headquarters of most of the government apparatuses of the Union are concentrated. But it is worth mentioning that they are taking place in practically all countries of the old continent.


This week has seen a new episode of protests in the Belgian capital, as a consequence of the summit of EU agriculture ministers that took place on Monday, February 26th, and based on its result, it does not look like they are going to be the last ones.


We will try to address this broad topic in the best way possible, but let’s take this from the beginning: What are the demands of the farmers? What injustices are we talking about? How long will this wave of protests last? Is there any satisfactory solution in the short term? These questions, and some others that will emerge, will be the ones we will try to answer in this article.


One important particularity of this farmers' movement is that it is taking place all over Europe, in many different countries which, in some cases, are very distant from each other. As a consequence of this heterogeneity in the protest, their demands vary to some extent depending on the country we are focusing on. Local causes, such as competition with neighboring countries, specific legislation, or conditions of the workers and size of the primary sector, differ notably, thus claims do too. Nevertheless, apart from the local specific challenges, some general common interests can be found in the protests all across Europe, concretely, those related to European common policies. In general terms, we could say they are based on two specific pieces of European legislation: The European Green Deal -or other green policies in general, mainly the new CAP 2023-2027- and The European Common Market Policies, which of course include everything that has to do with the common rules of the Union in terms of commercialization, imports, and exports.


First of all, it needs to be said that Europe's countryside has been in crisis for a very long time. (FACE, 2022) The shift in the productive model, imposition of quality standards, green policies, and imports have been especially harmful to a sector (FARM EUROPE, 2024) in which, by general rule, even without these policies, the producers perceive the lowest percentage of the final price of the product. Apart from the policy perspective, climate change consequences are much more dangerous for farming and agriculture, which depends on climate conditions much more than other sectors (Abuckle et al., 2015). In the last couple of years, farmers have had to face several floods, droughts, wildfires, hailstorms, and other weather phenomena deriving from climate change causing millions in losses.


No need to mention, it is also a sector in clear decline in terms of human resources, productive capacity, and infrastructure (Keenleyside et al, 2010); however, food security, and to some extent self-reliance of the European Union, depend strongly on the capacity to produce food on a local level, so it is crucial for the sake of the Union and its citizens to make an effort to ensure the survival of the primary sector in the long term. 


Leaving aside for a while the local demands, we will focus on the common claims of the European farmers, as mentioned above, including market policies and green policies of the EU.


The first, and probably the one that has been around the longest, has to do with bureaucracy and the requirements farmers face for the commercialization of their products. Permits, labeling, contracts, emission caps, forms… apart from being very time-consuming, due to the slowness of bureaucracy, also constitute a big obstacle for farmers in terms of costs or temporary blocks, that can, in some cases, lead to long periods of inactivity, which entail massive losses for the producers.


In a very close relation to this point, they also find green policies, including many pieces of legislation like The European Green Deal or the new CAP 2023-2027 agreements, as one of the most harmful points for the competitiveness of European food production. The high standards imposed on the first sector include not only the reduction of emissions and pollution in the production process, but the non-usage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, higher standards on animal welfare and some other measures. For the first time, the subsidies derived from the CAP 2023-2027 have been established as conditional to the fulfillment of these standards known as GAEC -Good Agrarian and Environmental Conditions-, thus forcing to some extent the farmers to reach them. These are very important steps in terms of ecology, ethics in the production of food and a healthier alimentation model for the citizens, but from the producer's perspective, they require huge investments and, at the very end, they result in a much more expensive product.


Contrary to what has been claimed in this wave of protests, these sets of measures are not negative by themselves. Oppositely, in my humble opinion, they are a more than necessary step towards the future both in ethical and environmental terms, but the problems for the primary sector emerge when they are applied at the same time as other measures related to the nature of the European Common Market.


The main demand of the farmers in terms of market policies is to put an end to disloyal competition of imported goods (Foote, 2021), in this case of food supplies. They find that the imports that the EU receive from countries outside the Union are not required to fulfill the high standards in terms of quality and production, thus, even with the tariffs at the borders, they enter the market at a much lower price, harming local producers. It is important to mention that encouragement of local production and zero km products are one of the pillars of the sustainability plan of the EU. However, due to the impossibility to apply the same requirements to foreign goods and the openness of the Union to imports -mainly due to trade agreements-, a discouragement of the consumers to buy local products is taking place, as a consequence of the high prices derived from the high costs of production. Due to this dynamic, European citizens are consuming products of lower quality, with a production process that is much more harmful for the planet and at the same time generating more pollution because of the process of export. So at the end of the road, the increase of the quality standards for food production inside the EU leaves the citizens in the same position as they were before the measure, but it both harms local producers and generates a bigger environmental cost. Completely the opposite to the spirit of this piece of legislation.


Moreover, since the War in Ukraine started and thus the conflict of the EU with Russia, has generated an increment in the cost of energy and some raw materials thus elevating even more the cost of production for the producers in the continent. To this we add that, as an effort to help Ukraine’s economy -which is predominantly agricultural-, the tariffs to their products were removed temporarily and has kept being extended every year (Gotev, 2023), thus we find Ukrainian products entering the market at super low prices and making European products unable to compete. This is one of the main reasons behind the protests especially in Eastern countries of the Union, like Poland or Romania.


Reality has shown us that if Europe really wants to take this step towards a more sustainable and ethical food production model, it is completely necessary to help the European Primary sector through this transition. But the view of some of the farmers involved is that the solution should go through the derogation of the already mentioned measures -animal welfare, chemical fertilizers, etc…- and coming back to the prior model, which in their opinion was working correctly.


Despite these claims, it seems like another solution that tackles both problems -the environmental challenge and the competitiveness of the European primary sector- at the same time is also a possibility. This solution, again in my opinion, should entail some extent of protection of the sector along the transition to a more sustainable model, like the one the EU is seeking. This needs to be carried out first by providing subsidies for the investments required for a greener production, also in order to face the consequences of climate change, and secondly, by protecting the local markets from the imports with higher tariffs, at least during a set period of time for adaptation and reconversion of the European primary sector, and specially for those products from outside the Union that do not fulfill the European standards of quality.


The last question that could be asked is Why now? Given that the new CAP 2023-2027 and the European Green Deal are not new in the EU agenda and that the war in Ukraine started two years ago now, what happened these first two months of 2024 that led to the intensification of the protests.


In a first view, there is not a concrete event that took place and triggered this escalation of discomfort, but it seems that a situation that was already tense in itself, due to all of the above, has been aggravated by a particular event, in this case the process of signing an EU agreement to receive imports from Mercosur, another of the world's most powerful agricultural producers. It seems that this agreement was going to be the straw that broke the camel's back for the farmers, and they decided to take to the streets even before the treaty was signed.


Another important element to take into account in order to understand the timing of the protests is that we are in an election year in the European institutions. In June of this year, the representatives of the European Parliament will be elected and it is therefore more likely that the voice of the citizens will be heard for electioneering purposes. More than a few political groups have already tried to capitalize on the situation in the form of votes.


Considering this background, we come to the last point, which is how European leaders have responded to this wave of protests. The first measure of all, which was not long in coming, has been to paralyze the agreement with Mercosur (Messad, 2024). Many of the most visible heads of the EU, such as French president Emmanuel Macron, have already made statements assuring that the agreement with Mercosur cannot be signed as it stands. (Zimmerman, 2024).


Other figures of the Union like the president of the European Commission: Ursula Von der Leyen or the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development have made declarations considering a change on the compulsory nature of the measures proposed in the CAP 2023-2027 or the reduction of the administrative charge for them by removing specific mentions to this sector in the legislative text. (Fortuna, 2024)


As for concrete actions, the law proposal that intended to reduce by 50% the use of chemical pesticides by 2030 has been retired with the compromise to redact a new one taking into account the interests of the farmers (De la Cruz, 2024). Also, the mandatory fallow land -GAEC 8- has also been repealed for the year 2024 (European Commission Press Corner, 2024) and a summit of all the Agriculture ministers of the member states was called for this Monday 26th of February to discuss the compulsory nature of the already mentioned GAECs and other topics. That was the reason for the new wave of protests this week.


In summary and in conclusion, there is little doubt about the situation of injustice in which European farm workers find themselves and also about the urgency of the demands they express. It is no longer only market practices that harm small and medium-sized producers, but the policies adopted by the EU in recent years have also caused considerable damage to a sector which, on the other hand, seems to be a key part of the model of sustainability that the EU is seeking for the coming years. In the same way, it seems clear that the farmers' demands, although understandable, are too radical and opposed to the Union's long-term interests, but it looks like a redesign of the plans could satisfy all parties. It is clear that the Union's policymakers have realized the need to redesign the legislation to better protect the interests of the countryside, but it is crucial to find an optimal equilibrium between the demands of the farmers and the long-term sustainability of the food production system of the Union a topic that brings us a lot more to discuss and analyze in following articles. Stay tuned!



Arbuckle Jr, J. G., Morton, L. W., & Hobbs, J. (2015). Understanding farmer perspectives on climate change adaptation and mitigation: The roles of trust in sources of climate information, climate change beliefs, and perceived risk. Environment and behavior, 47(2), 205-234.


de la Cruz, S (2024). Las respuestas de la Comisión Europea a las protestas de los agricultores [Online]. La Razón. Available at:


European Comission Press Corner, (2024). Commission proposes to allow EU farmers to derogate for one year from certain agricultural rules [Online]. European Commission. Available at:

FACE. The future of Europe’s rural areas: The European Parliament’s position [Online], (2022). FACE. Available at:


FARM EUROPE. (2024). Farm protests: structural responses from the EU needed – FarmEurope [Online]. FarmEurope – A multicultural think tank. Available at:


Foote, N., (2021). Unfair competition not top concern in green farming ambitions, says EU official [Online]. [Consultado el 1 de marzo de 2024]. Disponible en:


Fortuna, G., (2024). Von der Leyen sings ode to farmers, promises action to appease protests [Online]. euronews. Available at:


Gotev, G., (2023). EU extends Ukraine tariff suspension, Zelenskyy wants it permanent [Online]. Available at:


Keenleyside, C., Tucker, G., & McConville, A. (2010). Farmland Abandonment in the EU: an Assessment of Trends and Prospects. Institute for European Environmental Policy: London, UK, 1-98.


Mathiesen, K. y Weise, Z., (2024). Von der Leyen can delay, not avoid, climate showdown with farmers [Online]. POLITICO. Available at:


Messad, P., (2024). EU-Mercosur unlikely to be finalised before the EU elections [Online]. Available at:


Zimmermann, A., (2024). The EU’s trade deal with Latin America hangs by a thread. Here’s how to save it. [Online]. POLITICO. Available at: