Late last week, thousands of Dutch and Belgian farmers took to the streets to protest new limits on nitrogen emissions – introduced at the behest of far-left environmental groups – which would likely spell the end of most family farms and significantly reduce food production.

While these demonstrations are the direct result of recent policy changes, they also represent the culmination of creeping socialist controls of the agricultural sector that emerged in Europe throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

Following World War II, five European countries, including the Netherlands, established the European Economic Community – a precursor to the European Union.

Among other functions, the EEC created common markets and a customs union. This included the advent of a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) beginning in 1962.

Initially, CAP was designed to support farmers and ensure Europe’s food supply. With the West locked in an ideological struggle with the Soviet Union, ensuring a stable supply of food was critical.

The politicians who shaped CAP agreed upon four basic principles: community preference, financial solidarity, a fair market for agricultural products, and the maintenance of farming communities and cultures.

Early CAP policies were aimed at strengthening the core of European village culture, which was rooted in an ethos of family, Christianity, and local governance. Thanks to this agreement, every farmer was confident he could provide for his family and no giant importer or foreign firm would drive him out of business or into poverty.

European farmers knew that the market would prefer their product over imported goods, and their goods would be reasonably priced for customers. CAP became a synonym for fairness and community solidarity in Europe for decades.

But in the 1980s, a wave of socialist-minded politicians took power throughout Europe. The farmer, the historical bulwark of traditional and religious culture, suddenly became the target of an ever-growing bureaucratic establishment and their obsessions with “modernization.”

Although the pretexts of the bureaucracy’s attacks on small farms have evolved over the decades, the purpose has remained consistent – the erasure of the ethos of individual family farms and the social engineering of farming communities.

A growing regulatory state began placing arbitrary restrictions on farm operations and products with the backing of parliaments controlled by leftists.

The European Commission’s infamous five-page “cucumber curvature regulation,” adopted in 1988 and not abolished until 2009, is one such example. The policy established three cucumber “classes,” with the first class needing to be “well-shaped and practically straight (maximum height of the arc: 10 mm per 10 cm of the length of the cucumber).”

Although it sounded like a joke, the cucumber law soon became a major problem for small farms. Suddenly, some of their cucumbers became less desirable to food retailers, who only wanted to sell the “highest” grade products.

Notably, the cucumber law was championed by a French socialist who abhorred the religiosity of farmers, deeming it “countrymen subculture.” He also opposed acknowledging Europe’s Christian foundation in the EU constitution, illustrating his antipathy toward the faith that underpins farming communities.

The overzealous bureaucrats didn’t stop there. Soon there were similar regulations on dozens of fruits and vegetables, as well as soil regulations that prohibited the planting of certain vegetables if they allegedly threatened protected insects.

As the mountain of regulations grew, small family farms struggled to keep up – all while large agriculture conglomerates moved in and snapped up their land. Unemployed villagers found themselves tied to ever-increasing government handouts, and many were forced to relocate to cities – the ideal living situation in the eyes of socialist politicians.

For Christian Democrats in Europe, these attacks on farmers were eerily reminiscent of Stalinist collectivization. Indeed, the seemingly unavoidable outcome of the agricultural regulations was the growth of cities and the death of small farming communities.

In the 1990s, a new excuse for regulating small farms out of existence took center stage – climate change. For many farmers, agricultural policy modeled on far-left alarmism about the environment became a bigger nightmare than drought, fire, or locusts combined. After all, no insurance firm offers protection against a bureaucrat.

At the same time, many Christian Democrat parties, which had for decades been a bastion for farmers against attacks by European socialists, began to embrace far-left climate ideology. Farmers found themselves without any representation in government, with their way of life under assault from all sides.

The spirit of the cucumber law and soil regulations can be traced directly through to the nitrogen policies that have inspired the farmer protests today. While large corporate farms can afford to comply with the new rules, family farms cannot, thus accelerating the destruction of farming communities that began decades ago.

Recent quotas on meat and milk production have also imposed bureaucratic limits on the economic efficiency of farms, forcing many families into a ranch dole program that further subjugates them to the government.

Retired chemistry professor Johan Vollenbroek, one of the authors of the new nitrogen policy, has described it in classic socialist terms as a “revolution.” He was clear in his hope that it would “change” Europe forever.

Yet the protests have demonstrated that farmers are not willing to go quietly. As with any socialist bureaucratic overreach, the only cure is the courage of ordinary people who are willing to stand up and defend their culture and their way of life.

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