Farmers protest against a German government plan to cut tax breaks for diesel

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German farmers gathered in Berlin on Monday to protest against planned cuts to tax breaks for diesel used in agriculture, part of a deal reached by the government to plug a hole in the country’s budget. Leaders of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-party coalition last week agreed on measures to fill a 17 billion-Euro (USD 18.5 billion) hole in next year’s budget, saying they would achieve that by reducing climate-damaging subsidies and slightly reducing some ministries’ spending, among other measures.

That was necessary after Germany’s highest court annulled an earlier decision to re-purpose 60 billion Euros originally meant to cushion the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic for measures to help combat climate change and modernise the country. The manoeuvre fell foul of Germany’s strict self-imposed limits on running up debt. As more details of the deal have emerged, so has discontent, notably over a plan to cut tax breaks for agricultural diesel and scrap an exemption from car tax for farming vehicles.

Even Agriculture Minister Minister Cem Özdemir has protested. He told ARD television that farmers have “no alternative” to diesel. “I’m not shutting myself off from us having to save, but it must be done in a way that we take people along with us – and farmers are the ones who supply us with food,” Özdemir said. “These cuts … overburden the sector.” Farmers in tractors streamed into the capital on Monday for a protest at the Brandenburg Gate.

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Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, a member of Özdemir’s Green party, warned against picking apart last week’s budget deal and said that anyone wanting to reverse planned cuts must come up with a way to finance doing so which is acceptable to all. “As politicians, we are obliged to enable an overall solution,” Habeck told German news agency dpa. “What politicians can’t do is shirk responsibility and only say where savings shouldn’t be made.” Habeck’s Economy Ministry faces criticism from within the governing coalition over another aspect of the budget deal – an abrupt end to subsidies for buying new electric cars, which originally were due to stay in place until as late as the end of next year.

The ministry announced on Saturday that no new applications would be accepted after Sunday night.