Farmers’ revolt: Brussels against the peripheries
Every Monday morning, you can listen the director of the Identity and Democracy Foundation on Ligne Droite, Radio Courtoisie’s morning show, followed by his column on our website. This week, we look at the agricultural revolts shaking Europe.
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For several days now, farmers’ protests have been shaking the country. Is this phenomenon limited to France?
The farmers’ revolt in France is part of a wider movement affecting the whole of Europe. Back in 2019, massive demonstrations took place in the Netherlands to protest new ecological regulations. The year 2023 was important, with the emergence of the Farmer-Citizen Movement, which managed to become the country’s leading party in senatorial and local elections. Since then, the revolt has spread to France, Germany, and Belgium, as well as to Eastern European countries such as Romania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria. And the revolt could spread to Spain and Italy. These demonstrations in France are not an isolated phenomenon but are part of a vast European protest movement.
What can explain this European-wide anger?
Obviously, the exact causes vary from country to country. What’s more, farmers are suffering from the crisis affecting all European citizens, and in particular the rise in energy prices. But there are two main reasons for farmers’ anger across Europe. The first is the unfair competition induced by the free trade promoted by Brussels, a phenomenon that has been reinforced by the war in Ukraine. To support the Ukrainian war effort, the European Union authorizes the import of Ukrainian products, particularly agricultural products. These products are cheaper, partly because they are not subject to the same health and environmental standards. They therefore endanger European farmers. At the same time, European farmers are suffering from the multiplication of administrative standards dictated by Brussels, particularly environmental standards. Remember that the revolt in Germany started with a tax on diesel, while the movement in the Netherlands was prompted by the government’s desire to lower nitrogen emissions by reducing livestock numbers. In short, the European Union combines the worst of the liberal model with its free-trade policies, and the worst of statism with its tendency to regulate everything, especially now with the rise of environmentalist concerns.
But aren’t environmental regulations necessary?
Of course, environmental standards are necessary. And let’s not forget that farmers are often among the first victims of the health consequences of using dangerous products. But Brussels’ way of doing things is doubly absurd. On the one hand, measures are taken without taking into account farmers and their needs. Rather than building on their experience and accompanying them through the sometimes-necessary changes, environmental standards are set against them. On the other hand, the European Union authorizes the import of products that do not comply with these standards, and which are therefore cheaper and easier to produce. This is a double whammy for farmers: on the one hand, they are penalized by standards that increase their costs, and on the other, they suffer unfair competition from countries that do not respect these same standards. And the people are not the winners in this story, since they end up consuming products that do not comply with European standards. In the end, the situation is close to the one we experienced at the time of the Yellow Vests crisis in France, which started with a rise in fuel prices. Europeans are ready to make efforts, but policies must be made with the people, not against them.
Are you drawing parallels between the current agricultural crisis and that of the Yellow Vests?
Obviously, there are differences between these two movements, which don’t make the same demands and have quite different sociologies. Nevertheless, both are part of the same conflict between a Europe of big cities and a Europe of peripheries. The big cities, the metropolises, decide on the policies that are implemented in Europe, policies that are often implemented to the detriment of the peripheries, which are not consulted. In his book La France périphérique, geographer Christophe Guilluy shows that the political divide is increasingly between the metropolises, defended by Brussels and most European countries, and the peripheries, which are turning to patriots and populists throughout Europe. We find this phenomenon when we look at the Macron vote and the Le Pen vote in France, the Brexit/Remain divide in the UK or even the Trump/Biden opposition in the US. We can see this emerging divide between patriots and globalists everywhere, which is the political embodiment of this divide between the big cities and the peripheries.
Has the geographical divide become more important than the social divide?
It’s a bit more complicated, because at the same time, we can observe a great deal of social polarization in voting. In Bloc contre bloc, political scientist Jérôme Saintemarie shows that in the last elections, the well-off and upper-middle classes voted massively for Emmanuel Macron, while the working classes and lower-middle classes turned to Marine Le Pen. There is thus a kind of intersection between social and geographical criteria. In L’Age de la dualisation, political scientist Bruno Palier looks at the consequences of globalization according to income categories, and shows that three categories can be identified:
- The wealthiest Europeans tend to see their salaries rise because of globalization. These are the upper classes who live in the big cities.
- The working-class and middle-class, are suffering the consequences of globalization, seeing their wages fall and unemployment threaten them because of unfair competition and delocalization. As the cost of living rises in the big cities, these populations find themselves increasingly driven to the outskirts.
- Finally, the poorest Europeans, who often work in service professions, benefit from the increased consumption of the better-off and the development of metropolises. This category includes the working classes, often of immigrant origin, living in the suburbs of metropolises.
There’s a clear divide between, on the one hand, the big-city metropolises that bring together the wealthy classes and immigrant populations who vote together for the globalist parties and, on the other, the peripheries that bring together the losers of globalization who vote massively for the patriotic parties. All over Europe, we can see an opposition between, on the one hand, a Europe of the metropolises made up of wealthy classes and immigrants who benefit from globalization and support the globalist policies of Brussels, Paris or Berlin and, on the other, a Europe of the peripheries made up of the working and middle classes who support patriotic parties and of which the current agricultural crisis, like the Yellow Vest crisis, is an expression.