• Farmers are revolting in Germany and neighbouring countries
  • Populist parties continue to rise in the polls
  • The EU may not survive in its current form

I recently wrote about what has become a global, populist political phenomenon. Citizens of multiple countries, in both hemispheres, are not only voting for populist candidates but are also working outside their entrenched political establishments to either enact desired changes or oppose undesired ones.

The latter has been in focus this week as German farmers travelled to Berlin and other cities to blockade the roads in protest at the removal of certain subsidies considered noncompliant with official climate policies. Although not well reported in the British media, in the continental media, the protests made the front page.

Farm subsidies have existed all across Europe ever since the EU was founded. Affordable and available basic food was considered – and still is – a matter of national security. And since European farmers are not always as competitive as those elsewhere, subsidies were deemed required to keep them in business.

No longer. Apparently, climate goals now trump food security and affordability. And so the subsidies are to be ended, rendering farmers less competitive and possibly forcing some into bankruptcy.

As has been true throughout modern European history, the progressive Dutch were among the first to revolt against what they perceived as oppressive rules handed down from above. Farmers blockaded multiple cities and motorways in response to proposed nitrogen (fertiliser) quotas. More recently, the Dutch gave the largest portion of seats in the Tweede Kamer – their equivalent of the House of Commons – to the populist party of Geert Wilders.

Now farmers in Germany, the EU’s largest, wealthiest country, and largest net contributor to the EU budget, have joined the fray. They, in turn, have been joined by farmers in neighbouring Poland, Hungary and Austria. HGV drivers, many of whom supply farms with fertilisers and other essentials and in turn deliver produce from farm to table.

The pitchforks have come out, as it were.

As it happens, the UK also has a venerable populist tradition. In 1381, there was the so-called “Peasants Revolt” led by Wat Tyler. It began in Brentwood, Essex, with a dispute over unpaid taxes and rapidly spread to engulf much of southeast England. London was sacked, and many prominent buildings were set on fire. These included the Tower of London, in which Richard II’s lord chancellor and lord high treasurer were discovered by the rebels and summarily killed.

By comparison, today’s EU farmers are rather restrained in their actions. But they have laid down a populist political gauntlet of sorts. The common agricultural policy has been the backbone of the EU for decades. The perceived common interest of farmers has functioned as a form of political “cement” to hold the European project together and provide a base on which to build further integration into other industries.

Having been pushed too far, the farmers are now threatening to undermine the entire European project with support for populist and, in some cases, outright anti-EU parties. Recent polls suggest that, in eastern Germany, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is the leading political party.

Brussels has yet to voice any specific concerns about the matter. Perhaps they see these developments as just storms in teacups. Ensconced in their modern glass and steel palaces, they might even ponder whether, if European food security and affordability are compromised in pursuit of their lofty climate goals, they should just let their peasants eat cake instead.

John Butler
Investment Director, Fortune & Freedom

PS It’s not only German farmers who rely on affordable fuel to remain profitable. Energy is the single most important input to all economic activity and growth. And speaking of energy, my colleague James Allen is revealing how he detects exactly when and where the big money is flowing in the energy markets – what he calls “Power Pivot” windows. In this special briefing, he explains all, including how you can get your hands on his latest “Power Pivot” energy play. Early investors stand to benefit the most as they catch the wave before anyone else catches on – so make sure you check the briefing out before access ends at 11.59pm tomorrow.