Farmers bring down statue in Brussels protest as 1,000 tractors block roads

More than 1,000 tractors brought part of Brussels to a standstill, with farmers throwing eggs and stones at the European Parliament, starting fires near the building and toppling a statue as they protest against environmental rules and for more help with rising costs and taxes.

The statue, part of a monument to John Cockerill – a British-Belgian who helped Belgium’s industrial revolution – who the farmers potentially mistook for someone connected to the EU. Protesters also set off fireworks to press a summit of European Union leaders to do more to support them.

Small groups tried to tear down the barriers erected in front of parliament – a few blocks from where the summit was taking place – but police fired tear gas and sprayed water at the farmers with hoses to push them back.

Major thoroughfares in Brussels were blocked by around 1,300 tractors, according to a police estimate. Security personnel in riot gear stood guard behind barriers where the leaders were meeting at European Council headquarters.

“If you see with how many people we are here today, and if you see it’s all over Europe, so you must have hope,” said Kevin Bertens, a farmer from just outside Brussels. “You need us. Help us!”

Belgian farmers block a road with tractors near the European Parliament


Farmers from Italy, Spain and other European countries took part in the demonstration in Brussels, as well as continuing their protests at home. In Portugal, farmers made their way to the Spanish border at the crack of dawn to block some of the roads links between the two countries.

In France, farmers headed towards the lower house of parliament in Paris while drone footage showed a huge convoy of tractors on an motorway near Jossigny as others blocked highways around the French capital.

Farmers say they are not being paid enough, are choked by taxes and green rules and face unfair competition from abroad.

One of Belgium’s biggest supermarket chains Colruyt said on Thursday three of its distribution centres were blocked by protesting farmers, leading to disruptions in its supply chain. Centres located in Ollignies, Ghislenghien and Halle in central western Belgium, which supply Colruyt’s Belgian shops with dry food, water and drinks, and fresh and frozen products, were no longer accessible.

“At the moment, stock is still available in our shops… [but] it is inevitable that products will eventually be missing from the shelves,” Colruyt said in a statement, adding that it was difficult to make definitive statements on timing as shops have different stock levels.

“Colruyt Group has always focused on sourcing locally as much as possible and succeeds very well in this for many categories,” the store chain said. It added it understood farmers’ concerns but did not see blockades as a solution to them.

Police officers in riot gear stand guard in front of the European Parliament


In a separate statement, the group said almost 100 per cent of its meat, milk and eggs came from Belgium, while 75 per cent of fruit and vegetables were of that origin.

The protests across Europe come ahead of European Parliament elections. While the farmers’ crisis was not officially on the agenda of the EU summit, which focused on aid to Ukraine, an EU diplomat said the situation with the farmers was likely to be discussed later in the day.

Farmers have already secured several measures, including the bloc’s executive Commission proposals to limit farm imports from Ukraine and loosen some environmental regulations on fallow lands, which several EU leaders welcomed as they arrived at the summit.

In France, where farmers have been protesting for weeks, the government has dropped plans to gradually reduce subsidies on agricultural diesel and promised more aid. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said on Thursday that France will write the principle of “food sovereignty” into law as he unveiled further measures to quell farmer unrest amid escalating tensions at home and in Europe.

Mr Attal made the announcement at a news conference, adding more work to address farmer concerns was needed at EU level, namely regarding free trade agreements. He also said France will step up safety checks on food imports, notably to make sure that imported foods do not have traces of pesticides that are banned in France or the European Union and said that France would stop going above and beyond EU regulation on pesticides.

Smoke rises from a fire burning as Belgian farmers use their tractors to block roads


“It makes no sense to ban pesticides in France before such decisions are taken on an EU level, we will end this practice he said.

But farmers say they want more from EU leaders. “You know what’s happening: European elections are coming and politicians are super nervous and also the European Commission. And I think that this is the best moment that together all the European farmers go to the street,” said Jose Maria Castilla, a farmer representing the Spanish farmers’ union Asaja.

One tractor displayed a banner saying “If you love the earth, support those who manage it” as farmers from Belgium and other European countries try to make themselves heard by EU leaders.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said: “To the farmers that are outside. We see you and we hear you.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in disagreement with other EU leaders on many issues, made a point of meeting farmers overnight. “We need to find new leaders who truly represent the interests of the people,” his spokesman quoted him as saying, referring to the European Parliament elections.

As he arrived at the summit, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said farmers’ grievances should be discussed.

“They offer products of high quality, we also need to make sure that they can get the right price for the high quality products that they provide,” he said.

Meanwhile, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar echoed French President Emmanuel Macron’s opposition to signing a trade deal with the Mercosur group of South American countries in its current form – another key demand for farmers.

In France, where farmers stepped up protests at the start of the week, the impact of dozens of blockades is starting to be felt, said Eric Hemar, the head of a federation of transport and logistics employers.

“We did a poll among our federation members: all transport firms are impacted (by the farmers’ protest) and have lost over the past 10 days about 30% of their revenue, because we are not able to deliver on time or with delays,” he told franceinfo broadcaster.


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