Farmers have blocked roads with tractors across Germany, kicking off a week of protests against plans to phase out agricultural subsidies that ministers have warned could be co-opted by the far right.
Convoys of tractors and trucks – some with protest banners reading, “No beer without farmers,” and some with posters from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party – gathered on German roads in sub-zero temperatures on Monday.
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In Berlin, dozens of tractors blasted their horns and blocked the main avenue leading to the Brandenburg Gate to signal the start of a planned week of actions.
Police said roads and highway slip roads were blocked in multiple locations nationwide, including several border crossings with France.
Workers in sectors across Germany from transport to education have turned to industrial action in recent weeks.
Wage negotiations have taken a bitter turn as Europe’s biggest economy has struggled with weak growth, and households contend with sharply increased prices.
Rail workers will be next to walk out on Wednesday, launching a three-day strike as unions seek a pay rise to compensate for months of high inflation.
Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Greens, whose return from holiday was disrupted on Thursday by farmers trying to storm the ferry he was on board, warned that fringe groups could co-opt the protests.
“Calls are circulating with coup fantasies, extremist groups are forming, and ethnic-nationalist symbols are being openly displayed,” he said in a video.
Farmers said government plans to end two tax breaks that currently save them about 900 million euros ($980m) per year would drive them out of business.
The farmers’ pleas have won support from opposition conservatives and from within Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party.
Thousands of protesters had already descended on Berlin in December to protest against the planned subsidy cuts, blocking roads and dumping manure on the streets.
The rallies prompted the government to partially walk back the reductions on Thursday.
A discount on the vehicle tax for farmers would remain in place while a diesel subsidy would be phased out over several years instead of being abolished immediately, the government said.
Farmers said the change did not go far enough, and a government spokesperson said on Monday that the government needed to consider further changes.
“In the end, a government has to decide and has to lead the way, and that can’t always be to everyone’s satisfaction,” the spokesperson said.
A poll conducted by the public broadcaster NTV found the majority of the public backs the protest with 91 percent of respondents saying the farmers are justified in their action.