Call for calm in Germany as farmers continue fuel subsidies protest

Major roads have been blocked as part of a week of action against plans to scrap tax breaks on diesel used in agriculture.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has issued a plea for calm heads
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has issued a plea for calm heads (Kay Nietfeld/AP)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for calm on Saturday as the country faces protests by farmers angry about a plan to cut their fuel subsidies.

Farmers have blocked major roads and snarled traffic across the country with their tractors as part of a week of protests against the plan to scrap tax breaks on diesel used in agriculture.

They went ahead with the demonstrations although the government watered down its original plan, saying a car tax exemption for farming vehicles would be retained and the cuts in the diesel tax breaks would be staggered over three years.

The German chancellor said in a video message that “we took the farmers’ arguments to heart” and insisted the government came up with “a good compromise”, though farmers continue to insist on fully reversing the subsidy cuts.

He also said officials will discuss “what else we can do so that agriculture has a good future”.

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

The farmers’ protests come at a time of deep general discontent with centre-left Mr Scholz’s three-party government, which has become notorious for frequent public squabbles.

Mr Scholz acknowledged concerns that go well beyond farming subsidies, saying that crises, conflicts and worries about the future are unsettling people.

He said: “Arguments belong to democracy. But I know, including from personal experience of recent months, that arguments can wear people down and stoke uncertainty. We must improve this year.”

Mr Scholz also said, “rage is being stoked deliberately; with a gigantic reach, extremists are decrying every compromise, including on social media, and poisoning every democratic debate”.

The far-right Alternative for Germany party has gained strength over the past year and is currently in second place in national polls, with support of over 20% — behind the mainstream centre-right opposition bloc, but ahead of the parties in Mr Scholz’s coalition.

Germany faces European Parliament elections in June and three state elections in September in the formerly communist east, where Alternative for Germany is particularly strong.

Authorities have warned that far-right groups and others could try to capitalise on the farmers’ protests and the demonstrations faced scrutiny after a much-criticised earlier incident in which a group of farmers prevented Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck from disembarking a ferry in a small North Sea port as he returned from a personal trip to an offshore island.