Farmer protest continues: Tractors will block Brussels Ring Road until tonight

Farmer protest continues: Tractors will block Brussels Ring Road until tonight
Tractors blocking the E19 highway at the E429 crossing pictured during a farmers protest in Halle (Hal), organised by the federation of young walloon farmers (FJA), Monday 29 January 2024. Credit: Blega/Nicolas Maeterlinck

After heavily disrupting Monday morning rush hour by blocking part of the Brussels Ring Road with their tractors, farmers have clarified that they will continue to block traffic until the evening to protest a variety of issues, from administrative burdens to climate regulations.

Large demonstrations by farmers have taken place in several European countries in recent days, and have now reached Belgium. The farmers' protests are mainly fuelled by low farm incomes. The sector is also critical of the Common Agricultural Policy and rejects free trade agreements such as Mercosur.

Tractors blocked the inner and outer ring roads around Brussels in Halle, causing traffic jams of over an hour during Monday morning rush hour. The tractors were supposed to disperse after rush hour, but the blockade is now expected to last until the end of the day, said Guillaume Van Binst, Secretary-General of the Young Farmers' Federation (FJA).

The activists are assessing the situation from hour to hour. "[The duration of the protest] depends on the reactions we get," he said, adding that the protesters are also starting to come in shifts. The Traffic Centre recommends avoiding the area.

Translation: "R0, E429 motorways: There is a serious disruption in the Halle area due to a protest. On the inner ring road, the road is closed near Ittre. The outer ring road is closed in Huizingen."

The FJA recognises that such disruptive actions can be an inconvenience for the general public but has appealed for support. "Citizens must understand that we are also acting in their interest. A society where agriculture is in danger poses a threat to everyone. Relying on other regions of the world for vital resources can have many impacts, notably financial. We must all fight together to prevent this from happening in agriculture."

This morning, the outer ring of the Brussels Ring Road was blocked from Huizingen, the inner ring from Itter to Ruisbroek. The Traffic Centre also noted that it is not possible to enter the Brussels Ring Road from the E429 motorway. While disruptions have eased over the course of the day, they are expected to increase again during the evening rush.

On the outer ring road from Anderlecht, drivers had to queue for about an hour on Monday morning. Getting onto the inner ring road of the E429 motorway from Tournai was also "virtually impossible," said Katrien Kiekens of the Agency for Roads and Traffic.

Farmers' protest in Halle, organised by the Federation of Young Walloon farmers (FJA). Credit: Belga / Nicolas Maeterlinck

Those wanting to reach Brussels from the south on the E19 motorway are advised to do so via the eastern side of the Brussels Ring Road. Meanwhile, in the centre of Brussels, a dozen tractors are also present on Place De Meeûs, near Place de Luxembourg.

On Sunday night, farmers also blocked a distribution centre of supermarket chain Colruyt in Halle for some time, but access to the site was unblocked again on Monday morning and the action will likely not affect shops.

From the distribution centre, fruit and vegetables are transported to the shops. Colruyt had prepared for the actions and ensured that deliveries to the shops left on time but added that "we feel that blocking entire regions and hindering our activities does not solve anything structural."

Numerous tractors at a farmers' protest on the border of Belgium and France. Credit: Belga / Julien Warnand

The company wants to remain in constructive dialogue with farmers. "We like to think constructively about policies that are sustainable for all stakeholders," they said. "We are happy that the necessary consultation at European level with the involvement of all stakeholders is underway."

Last Thursday, the strategic dialogue on the future of agriculture in Europe was launched. This new forum aims to shape a shared vision for the future of the EU's farming and food system and will see working groups discuss specific problems or themes, such as farmers’ incomes and support to agriculture "within the boundaries of our planet and its ecosystem."

For the rest of Monday, the remaining disruptions from the protests are expected to be in the south of the country. Some 400 tractors have been parked near the Daussoulx interchange since Sunday afternoon, where the E411 and E42 motorways intersect, where they will remain until "at least" tonight.

In the Luxembourg province, a group of tractors is forming a blockade at the border with France, on the N89 in Beaubru, just south of Bouillon. In the Hainaut province, the same is happening on the E19 motorway in Feluy, which is closed at Houdeng-Goegnies, near La Louvière.

Tractors at a farmers' protest on the border of Belgium and France. Credit: Belga / Julien Warnand

The 400 tractors blocking the E411 and E42 motorways at the Daussoulx interchange near Namur since Sunday afternoon were initially planning to leave after the morning rush, but will now also remain in place until the evening, Van Binst said.

On Tuesday, the farmers' organisation has an appointment at the office of Walloon Environment Minister Céline Tellier. The FJA hopes to discuss a reform of plant protection products, and expects financial compensation.

"On Thursday, we have to be in Brussels for the European summit," Van Binst added. "The mobilisation has to be there, because it is at the European level that action has to be taken. We know our French colleagues want to come, but the timing has to be right – Paris is their priority. The more of us there are, the better."

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