The city/country divide isn't just a physical distinction – the divide marks the mindsets of the people on the ground. And though the distance between Brussels and the fields isn't great, the desires and demands of rural and urban are right now out of tune. The result is a major rift in the Flanders government, which has become embroiled in a deadlock over the region's proposed nitrogen policy.
In brief, the region needs to clamp down on nitrogen emissions in order to comply with EU targets. The proposed changes will come down hard on farmers whose agricultural practices have paid virtually no consideration to the environmental impact of drenching land in fertilisers and pesticides.
But Flanders must now clean up its act if it hopes to receive any of the (enormous) subsidies provided by the EU's Common Agricultural Policy. The problem is that whilst the sector depends on these funds to subsist, it isn't possible for Flanders to maintain all its farms and remain within the emissions limit.
The solution? The regional government has proposed a nitrogen policy that identifies the most polluting farms, which will have to close by 2025. Predictably, the bill has gone down like a lead balloon with the industry, notwithstanding the compensation those forced to end operations would receive.
And with Belgium's regional governments also broad-church coalitions like the Federal Government, discord between governing parties has paralysed progress on the issue. The inevitable losers are, of course, the farmers: not only will they have to adjust to greener methods (or in some cases close), they also are deprived of the substantial EU subsidies as long as the government can't reach an agreement.
So in a display of frustration and existential concern, farmers from across Flanders will roll into Brussels tomorrow – their procession of tractors making clear to lawmakers the sector's plight. And though the protest will provide bystanders with a spectacle of defamiliarisation, the stakes are considerable in an era of shaky food security.
Pitchforks at the ready? Let @Orlando_tbt know.
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