Excess Food: Farmers Protest Low Patronage In Brussels

by Ohepo Ohepo

On Monday, February 26, in Belgium, a confrontation occurred between farmers and law enforcement, with the former utilizing liquid manure as a projectile against officers and igniting tire barricades. This act of protest coincided with a meeting of European Union agriculture ministers, deliberating on solutions for the agricultural sector’s grievances. Brussels authorities reported the ingress of 900 tractors into the city, converging on the European Council’s venue, enveloping the area in smoke as police, clad in riot gear, mobilized water cannons from behind concrete and barbed wire defenses.

A significant incident involved farmers unloading tires close to the European Council, which were promptly set ablaze following the deployment of water cannons by the police. An aggressive maneuver by several tractors breached a barrier, causing a scramble among law enforcement. A preceding protest earlier in the month escalated to violence, with hay bales being set on fire and projectiles thrown at police during an EU summit.

Tractors stand during a protest of European farmers over price pressures, taxes and green regulation, on the day of an EU agriculture ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium February 26, 2024.

These demonstrations are part of a broader wave of farmer protests across Europe, with recent discontent expressed towards French President Emmanuel Macron at the Paris Agricultural Show. Farmers from across the continent, including Spain, Portugal, and Italy, have rallied together, driven by concerns over stringent EU environmental regulations and the influx of cheap imports. In Madrid, Spanish farmers voiced their plight, signaling a deepening crisis in the agricultural sector.

This series of protests aligns with the electoral campaigning for the upcoming Europe-wide elections, reflecting the significant influence of the agricultural sector. The European Commission’s recent withdrawal of an anti-pesticide initiative marks a concession to farmer demands.

In Brussels, ministers demonstrated an understanding of the farmers’ plights, discussing the European Commission’s new proposals to simplify the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), aimed at alleviating farmer frustrations. These adjustments propose easing environmental restrictions, simplifying administrative processes, and offering more flexibility in compliance with CAP standards, especially in response to extreme weather conditions.

Police spray a water canon during a farmers demonstration in in Brussels, Monday, February 26, 2024.

Acknowledging the farmers’ struggles with environmental policy compliance, reduced EU agricultural subsidies, and the repercussions of the conflict in Ukraine on grain supplies, the EU and Belgium’s agriculture minister emphasized the importance of non-violent protest. The French Agriculture Minister highlighted the urgency of conveying immediate and long-term positive changes to the farming community.

In response to the farmers’ protests, Brussels has made several concessions, such as continuing the suspension of land fallow rules and introducing measures to protect against an influx of Ukrainian grain under a tariff-free arrangement post-Russia’s invasion in 2022.

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