Farmers target German vice chancellor in subsidies protest
A group of German farmers angered by cost-saving plans impacting the country's agricultural sector blocked the EU state’s vice chancellor from disembarking a ferry on Thursday, in a protest that was criticized by both government and opposition figures.
Robert Habeck, who also serves as Germany’s economy and climate minister, was prevented from leaving the vessel after returning to the mainland from the small island of Hooge, where he had been on holiday. Police said farmers blocked a jetty in Schluettsiel on the North Sea coast, forcing Habeck to return to the island, according to Germany’s DPA news agency.
More than 100 people participated in the blockade, police said, with around 30 officers deployed to the scene, some of whom used pepper spray to quell the disturbance.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz was heavily criticized by farmers last month after his unpopular government announced plans to cut back agricultural sector subsidies as part of a broader package intended to plug a €17 billion ($18.6 billion) deficit in Germany’s 2024 budget. Farmers staged a protest in Berlin last month, and have vowed to hold further demonstrations.
A spokesperson for Habeck told DPA that he would have been happy to discuss the subsidies row with the farmers, but that “the security situation did not allow for a dialogue with all farmers,” later adding that an “offer made by Minister Habeck to talk to individuals farmers was unfortunately not accepted.”
On Thursday – ahead of the protest involving Habeck – Berlin said it would partially roll back the planned measures. It said it would retain car-tax exemptions on farming vehicles, while also staggering reductions in fuel tax for diesel used in agricultural settings.
However, the German Farmers’ Association said the government’s amendment to the subsidies pullback didn’t go far enough, and that protests planned for next week would still go ahead.
A spokesperson for Scholz’s office, Steffen Hebestreit, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that the blockade of Habeck’s ferry was “shameful and violates the rules” of a functioning society. Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said the protest “discredits the cause of many farmers who demonstrate peacefully.”
Meanwhile, Hendrik Wust of the opposition Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) wrote on social media that “this transgression is absolutely unacceptable” and that the incident “must have consequences.”
Germany’s budgetary changes came after its highest court reversed an earlier decision to siphon €60 billion ($66 billion) in funds originally intended for sectors damaged by the Covid-19 pandemic to other measures, including climate-change mitigation.
Following the blockade, Habeck returned to the mainland on another ferry overnight, reports said.