BERLIN — Tensions over Germany’s budget crisis escalated significantly late Thursday as a group of angry farmers protested against tax hikes by blocking Greens Economy Minister Robert Habeck from disembarking from a ferry as it docked in northern Germany.
The mob of more than 100 people harangued Habeck in a scene local police described as “very, very tense.”
The incident underlines growing discontent and political tensions over spending cuts that the leaders of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-party coalition have proposed amid the country’s still-roiling budget crisis. The government had to significantly reduce spending in a new draft budget for 2024 after a constitutional court ruling in November blew a €60 billion hole in its finances.
As part of their budget plans, ruling coalition leaders proposed removing key tax privileges for farmers, including a tax break on diesel fuel. Those plans have stoked outrage, leading to big protests.
Farmers on Thursday spontaneously organized themselves via Facebook groups and rushed to the port of Schlüttsiel in Schleswig-Holstein to challenge Habeck, according to German media outlet Welt.
Habeck and his wife, who had paid a private visit to a North Sea island, were not able to disembark “for security reasons” and had to leave the port on the boat, a spokesperson for the minister said. The protestors rejected an offer to have a small group of the farmers engage in a discussion with Habeck, the spokesperson said.
The situation further escalated as the ferry departed, with a smaller group of farmers reportedly trying to force their way onto the boat. A video shared on social media shows police officers struggling to push back the mob. Police said that pepper spray and “light physical violence” were used to push back the demonstrators, although no one was injured. Habeck was eventually able to disembark in Schlüttsiel later in the night.
German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit strongly condemned the protesters action, calling it “shameful” and saying it “violates the rules of democratic coexistence,” in a post on X.
Just hours before the ferry incident, the German government announced it would backtrack on some of the proposed tax hikes for farmers. But that did not assuage many of the farmers.
Joachim Rukwied, the president of the German Farmers’ Association, said that his group wants all tax hikes to be reversed. Farmers have planned large protests for next week.
The Greens’ Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir also criticized the violent protests.
“These are people who don’t care about German agriculture,” he told German public broadcaster ARD on Friday. “They have wet dreams about overthrowing” the government.