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Tractors flood Brussels to show rural anger during European leaders’ summit | International

by Isabella Walker
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More than a thousand tractors occupied the European district of Brussels this Thursday, in a demonstration that sought to concentrate the anger of the countryside, expressed in recent weeks in several European countries with various actions, in a large protest in front of the institutions of the European Union in the Belgian capital. The demonstration, for which farmers have arrived from different countries, takes place on the same day in which the Heads of State and Government of the Twenty-Seven also meet in an extraordinary manner in Brussels. Although European leaders came with the aim of discussing above all the aid package for Ukraine, the discontent of the countryside, reflected in the very streets where their delegations circulated for the European event, ended up creeping into their agenda .

In the protests of European farmers who have imposed blockades from Germany to France, Poland and Slovakia in recent weeks, different arguments have been put forward. But everyone, sooner or later, unites in anger against “the inconsistency of European policies” which, as Italian, Belgian and French farmers, many of them young, complained in Brussels on Thursday, do not allow them to receive a sufficient income to their work. .

“Europe must make a decision: the European Green Deal and ultraliberalism are not compatible,” said Astrid Ayral, of the Belgian agricultural union FUGEA, in Luxembourg Square, in front of the main entrance of the European Parliament where the protests. were concentrated and some incidents occurred in which some protesters burned straw bales and tires and toppled part of a statue. Its formation advocates “environmentally friendly” agriculture, as promoted by the EU’s Green Deal policies.

The problem, Ayral underlined, is that this requires “fair prices” that allow farmers to live with dignity and make the investments that these European policies require, but which they cannot even amortize, profitable. And this implies, he underlined, that Europe is “more protectionist” and stops signing trade agreements such as Mercosur with countries which, according to the general opinion of the protesters, open the door to products with lower requirements than those imposed in the EU.

“We ask for mirror clauses in trade agreements so that agricultural products from other countries meet the same requirements as ours. We do not refuse phytosanitary requirements, but we want those who come to sell here to respect them. And we also want dignity and respect”, said José María Castilla, representative in Brussels of the Spanish agricultural association Asaja, one of the organizers of the protest which managed to block the main roads around the European institutions with around 1,300 large tractors and above all very new “We ask for the paralysis of the laws. We can’t take it anymore, every day a new rule is approved”, he added.

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“Is buying meat 10,000 kilometers away ecological?” wondered a little further afield Ludo, a fifth-generation farmer who runs an egg farm in Charleroi, Wallonia, the French-speaking Belgium on which the main protests have focused this week. Village. “Between foreign competition, the fact that we are poorly paid and the change in European rules”, young people have less and less possibility of continuing in the sector, complains this young father who doubts that his children will continue the family business.

“We are not going against Europe, but we must rethink the rules if they do not want us to abandon the countryside,” warned Enerico Pasini, national president of the young farmers of the Italian union Coldiretti and olive grower from southern Italy.

Since the early hours of the morning, the heavy agricultural vehicles have collapsed the main streets of the European Quarter in an attempt to converge on Luxembourg Square, where the first accidents began early in the morning, with the demolition of a statue which led to the intervention of the traffic police. the police.police. Some farmers also threw eggs and stones at the European Parliament early in the morning and lit several large bonfires by burning straw bales near the building, against which they also threw some burnt tyres. According to Reuters, protesters attempted to break down barriers erected in front of Parliament – a few blocks from where the summit was taking place – but police repelled them with water cannons and tear gas. Things, however, were mostly calm once outside the vicinity of the main square, in the vicinity of which many businesses remained open.

As has happened in other countries, some groups, especially the more ultra and Eurosceptic ones, have tried to capitalize on the protests and use them, above all, to attack the EU’s environmental policy. The representatives of Vox, who had already displayed a banner in the first demonstration in Brussels a week ago, were also very present this Thursday at the central point of the protest, where the vice-president of the regional government of Castilla and León, Juan García-Gallardo, participated Also. , by Vox. The day before, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whose veto in December on financial aid to Ukraine forced the other 26 leaders to meet again today, took the opportunity to stroll among the first tractors arriving in Brussels to claim that his government is “on the side of the voice of the people”.

Better to leave the car at home

In anticipation of the agricultural blockade, local authorities had advised leaving cars at home during the day, despite the fact that some public transport is also seriously disrupted due to the protest and the extraordinary summit. The tractors had begun to enter Brussels since Wednesday night, although most did so in the early hours of the morning, waking up numerous residents with their engines, horns and even sirens, who did not hesitate to show the unusual images of the tractors on social media. The large vehicles circulating on the streets of the Belgian capital.

The farmers’ anger in front of the European Parliament was also felt in the headquarters of the European Council, a few hundred meters away, where the EU heads of state and government meet.

“It wasn’t easy to get there, but it was a pleasant journey,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas joked about the collapse of the Belgian capital. More seriously, his Belgian counterpart, Alexander De Croo, who since the beginning of the week has seen how the countryside has organized itself into protests similar to those that France is already experiencing since last week, urged that Thursday’s event serves also to talk about the topic of the camp. “We need to be able to discuss this in the Council because the concerns they have are perfectly legitimate,” he told reporters upon his arrival. “The climate transition is a key priority for our societies and we must ensure that our farmers are allies in it (…) and can take part in the discussion,” he said.

Bonfire in front of the European Parliament this Thursday in Brussels. YVES HERMAN (REUTERS)

The European Commission made a gesture to farmers on Wednesday. He heeded one of their complaints by proposing a temporary repeal of the requirement to leave a minimum percentage of land fallow each year. The EU Executive’s proposal, which will have to receive the approval of member states, comes at a time when protests in the agricultural sector are spreading from country to country. The initiative coincides with another that will most likely not be well received in the sector: the one-year extension of the duty exemption on imports of agricultural products from Ukraine and Moldova, which has so irritated farmers in neighboring countries.

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