Italy set to offer help to farmers in sign waves of protests across Europe are working

Farmers have protested across Europe

Rich Booth
Wednesday 07 February 2024 16:55
<p>Italian farmers gather with their tractors during a protest in Cuneo, Lombardy</p>

Italian farmers gather with their tractors during a protest in Cuneo, Lombardy

Italy’s government is set to offer tax breaks to help farmers facing hardship, amid a wave of protests across Europe.

Farmers have staged demonstrations to express their anger about low prices for produce, rising costs, cheap imports and constraints imposed by the European Union’s drive to fight climate change, demanding action by authorities.

The protests have eased in France and Germany for now but appear to be growing in intensity in countries such as Spain and Italy, where groups of farmers have congregated outside Rome with their tractors.

The government appears set to partially restore an income tax break which had been dropped in the budget law for 2024, accepting one of the farmers’ key requests.

“A measure aimed at providing tax exemption for those agricultural entrepreneurs who need effective support .... is being studied,” Parliament Minister Luca Ciriani told the lower house of parliament.

“It is clear that the main priority for this government in managing public resources is to use them to support the weakest,” added Ciriani, a member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party.

Spanish farmers drive their tractors along the road during a protest in demand of fair conditions

He said the tax breaks could be included in a government decree currently being examined in parliament.

Farming is a sensitive sector for Meloni’s right-wing administration. Coldiretti, the main agricultural lobby group, has a close relation with the government but the current protests are being led by a number of individual associations.

Meloni on Wednesday said her government had already done much to protect Italian farmers from European policies seen as harmful.

“The government defended the agricultural sector from some choices that we felt were too ideological”, she told an event

Meanwhile, convoys of tractors converged on Barcelona’s city centre on Wednesday.

Farmers make barricades after blocking a highway during a protest near Mollerussa, northeast Spain

On their second day of protests, Spanish farmers planned to disrupt traffic and meet with local authorities to explain their grievances. Around 15 major roads were blocked across Spain on Wednesday afternoon, traffic authorities said.

In Castellon on Spain’s eastern coast, farmers blocked the main entrance to the port with tractors, burning tyres and staging a sit-down protest. Police agents removed the protesters one-by-one without violence, ending the blockade.

“It is totally unfair competition,” citrus farmer Felipe Domenech, 55, told Reuters at the gates of the port. “If fruit comes from abroad it should enter under the same conditions.” Union leader Unai Sordo on Tuesday described the farmers protesting as businessmen, not farm workers, but said that did not undermine the legitimacy of their demands.

“They are right in some demands and less right in others,” he told reporters.

The protests prompted the Spanish government to distribute an additional 269 million-euro ($290-million) subsidy for as many as 140,000 farmers and for the European Commission, the EU executive, to scrap a plan to halve pesticide use in the bloc.

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