Farmers roll into Brussels as protests flare up across Europe

Farmers roll into Brussels as protests flare up across Europe
Flemish farmers take their tractors to the city center of Brussels, to protest against proposed new rules to reduce nitrogen emissions, on Friday 03 March 2023. Credit: Belga / James Arthur Gekiere

Discontent among Europe's farming community has this week come to a head as protests gather momentum in France, Germany, Poland, and the Netherlands. In addition to national demonstrations, farmers are rolling into Brussels on Wednesday to take action in front of the European Parliament.

With tactics largely focussed on roadblocks that have brought key routes to a halt, the sector calls attention to a deterioration in working conditions and remuneration. Farmers unions argue that the competing pressures of producing more whilst at the same time adhering to tighter environmental conditions are making their occupation near-impossible.

Farmers across France are stepping up protests following the deaths of a farmer and her daughter who were killed on Tuesday when a vehicle drove into the roadblock they had put up as part of ongoing protests. They highlight issues surrounding environmental regulations and administrative permits, as well as the high cost of diesel fuel.

The protest began in the Occitanie region in the south of the country on Thursday 18 January; it has since spread nationwide. "Actions will intensify on Wednesday," insisted the president of the FNSEA, the leading agricultural union, Arnaud Rousseau.

Early Wednesday, at least 200 tractors took to the Bordeaux ring road — a vital link between Paris and Spain — disrupting traffic. According to the Hauts-de-France prefecture in the north of the country, "access to the various cross-Channel platforms may be hampered," specifically the Channel Tunnel and the port serving England.

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Likewise in Belgium, concerns are rising about dwindling revenues, complex legislation, and administrative burdens. The Wallonia Federation of Agriculture (FWA) has announced protest actions from Monday 29 January. "We are not talking about blockades, we are talking about roadblocks," the federation affirmed.

In Belgium's francophone region, the main concerns are low incomes, complicated legislation and an excess of red tape. The sector hopes to make the public understand that the issue affects the entire population, not only those who work on the land. To this end, public disruption will be limited by the creation of "permeable barriers" that will allow some traffic to pass.

Same sector, different struggles

Whilst farmers across the bloc are uniting in their dissatisfaction, the industry's concerns vary in different countries. Outside France and Belgium, issues of particular frustration tell a story about environmental policies and subsidies in each nation.

In Germany, farmers protested last week against cuts in fuel subsidies. In Poland, Romania, and Hungary, anger has been growing for months about EU measures to allow grain exports from Ukraine to pass through their territory rather than via the Black Sea. This has flooded their domestic markets with cheap cereals that have undercut local producers.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, concerns have centred around nitrogen – where government efforts to cut emissions in the sector have questioned the viability of many producers. It's an issue that has sparked similar anger in Flanders, where successive deadlines to agree on climate targets at the national level have been missed due to staunch resistance from the sector.

Farming associations from around Europe gathered before the European Parliament on Wednesday 24 January. Credit: Emily Stolton

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