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Farmers jam Brussels' EU quarter as ministers meet

February 26, 2024

Demonstrators are demanding EU action on cheap supermarket products, low-cost imports and environmental rules that they say put too much pressure on the agricultural sector.

Farmers lighting fire to tires in Brussels near EU headquarters
Farmers burned tires at a protest in BrusselsImage: Benoit Doppagne/Belga Mag/AFP/Getty Images

Farmers set fire to tires and blocked roads at a protest in Brussels on Monday.

The protesters threw eggs, burned tires, set off fireworks and sprayed manure, while officers responded with water cannons and tear gas in the worst-affected areas.

An estimated 900 tractors were parked around the European Union institutions' headquarters as agricultural ministers met to discuss the sector.

Police in riot gear patrolled barriers set up near the headquarters. Officers fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesting farmers, who threw eggs, burned tires and set off firecrackers.

DW's Rosie Birchard reports from Brussels farmers' protests

What are the farmers' protests about?

Demonstrators are demanding EU action on cheap supermarket products, low-cost imports and environmental rules that farmers say put too much pressure on the agricultural sector.

Farmers have argued that allowing cheap imports puts pressure on EU agriculture, which cannot compete with other countries with more lax environmental regulations.

A farmer emits hay from his tractor onto Belgian riot police officers as gas rises from tear gas canisters
Farmers across Europe have been protesting for weeks over what they say are excessively restrictive environmental rules, competition from cheap imports from outside the EU and low incomesImage: Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA/AFP/Getty Images

The farmers' association European Coordination Via Campesina said the EU had not yet done enough to address the demands. Belgian, German, Dutch and French farming associations also called members to join the protest.

Farmers also protested free trade talks between Brussels and the South American economic bloc Mercosur.

Farmers protest in Brussels as EU agriculture ministers meet

What did agriculture ministers say about the farmers' demands?

In response to weeks of farmers' protests, the EU has weakened some parts of its so-called Green Deal environmental policies and removed the goal of cutting farming emissions from its 2040 climate road map.

"Farmers need to be paid for what they do... There are aspects of the Green Deal demanded of farmers that are not remunerated. That is the core of the problem," Belgian Agriculture Minister David Clarinval said before the meeting.

"We must change a lot in the [EU's Common Agricultural Policy], because this Green Deal and the green targets that we have are almost impossible to reach," said Latvian Agriculture Minister Armands Krauze.

"I'm not saying that we cannot do the [green] transition, but there is a need to take into account the reality on the ground," added French Agricultural Minister Marc Fesneau.

Belgian riot police officers shield themselves from eggs used as projectiles amid clashes in Brussels
Protesters used eggs as projectiles, forcing Belgian police to hide behind their shieldsImage: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

Farmers protest across Europe

Farmers' protests were not confined to Brussels. At a demonstration in Madrid, farmers from across Spain blew whistles, rang cowbells and beat drums to call on the EU to cut red tape and drop some changes to its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The CAP is one of relatively few examples of fully centralized EU policy and as a result accounts for a huge share, roughly one-quarter, of the bloc's entire annual budget. CAP expenditure was just over €55 billion (around $60 billion) in 2022.

In Poland, farmers blocked the A2 highway from the Swiecko junction to the German border. Trucks, cars and buses were forced to take alternative routes as tractors blocked the road in both directions. 

The Polish farmers' protests were against the EU's agricultural policy and the import of cheap agricultural products from Ukraine

sdi,dh/msh (Reuters, dpa, AP)