German farmers blocked the streets of Berlin with over 4,000 tractors to protest government plans to abolish tax relief for agricultural diesel.
Joachim Rukwied, president of the German Farmers' Association, said they will not accept the government’s recent offer to gradually phase out tax breaks and will continue their protests.
"I have the impression that the coalition government has still not understood: We will not accept bad compromises on agricultural diesel," he said in a statement on Monday.
"We need a change in policy that prioritizes the needs of our population, small and medium-sized enterprises, the economy and agriculture," he added.
From the early morning, convoys of tractors brought traffic in Berlin to a standstill, and major city roads in the government district, and around the city’s landmark Brandenburg Gate were blocked.
'Get lost, get lost!'
Some of the farmers attached signs to their tractors and trucks that read: "No future without farmers," “The farms are on fire, politicians are asleep," “You do not play with food, secure agricultural production," and "Stop wasting taxpayers' money!"
Finance Minister Christian Lindner, who arrived at the protest site to talk to the farmers, was greeted by loud boos and shouts of "Get lost, get lost!"
Addressing the protesters, Lindner said the government is aware of the difficulties faced by the farmers and had already made changes to the planned cuts.
He argued that the gradual phasing out of diesel tax breaks was unavoidable, as the budget was overburdened by large investments and necessary defence spending.
"Each year, we’re paying €40 billion [approximately $ 43.8 billion] in interest payments on the national debt, this is from your money. It would have been an irresponsible move after all to create more and more debt,” he said.
Lindner claimed that all sectors will be affected by the austerity policies, and he promised to take measures to reduce bureaucracy, and not to introduce new taxes.
The minister’s speech was repeatedly interrupted by angry protesters, who booed and screamed as he tried to speak.
According to the organisers, around 30,000 farmers from across Germany arrived in Berlin to take part in the protest against the government’s policies.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz's left-liberal coalition announced last month that it is planning to cut agricultural fuel and vehicle subsidies, as part of the government’s new austerity measures to meet budget rules.
Amid pressure, the government revised its plan earlier this month and said the tax relief will be gradually phased out over multiple years. However the farmers’ association turned down this offer, stressing that these changes were far from sufficient to address their problems.