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Hundreds of tractors paralyze Brussels

Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck BELGA/Agence France-Presse A farmer throws hay from his tractor at Belgian riot police officers as gas escapes from tear gas canisters during a demonstration, in Brussels, February 26, 2024.

Julien Girault – Agence France-Presse in Brussels

1:46 p.m.

  • Europe

Farmers faced riot police on Monday in the streets of Brussels paralyzed by hundreds of tractors, on the sidelines of a meeting of ministers of the Twenty-Seven ready to revise the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP ).

As on February 1, the Belgian capital was the scene of a show of force from the agricultural world, standing up against the regulatory “burden”, unfair competition from cheap imports and falling wages.

Some 900 tractors were counted by the police, who barricaded the European district. Without injuries or violent clashes, the face-to-face situation was tense: the authorities responded with tear gas and water cannons to egg throwing, tire burnings and fireworks.

Some 700 foreign demonstrators, mainly from Italy and Spain, were present, according to the police.

Under pressure from Member States, the European Commission presented on Monday its first ideas for “simplifying” the CAP rules.

Without defusing the exasperation of the demonstrators, among whom delegations from Spain, Portugal and the Italian Coldiretti confederation rubbed shoulders with Belgian organizations.

“We have been protesting for months, they keep procrastinating,” annoys Marieke Van de Vivere, who works on the family farm, criticizing the regulatory “madness”.

“We have to pay for the horse that produces manure, the “Green Deal” orders us how to manage the manure, where it goes… it’s mind-boggling.”

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“First concrete step”

“So much bureaucracy that we can no longer produce. We need a policy that guarantees profitability and generational change,” says Adoración Blanque, Young Spanish Farmers.

After an exemption already approved for fallow land, the obligations to maintain permanent meadows could be relaxed. Several States are also asking for flexibilities on crop rotation.

A tolerance would be granted to farmers not respecting the CAP criteria due to climatic episodes. Finally, declaration requirements would be reduced, inspection visits reduced by half.

“These measures will constitute the very first concrete step to respond to concerns, but it is not enough” and the States “invite the Commission to quickly complete them with new, more ambitious measures,” concluded Belgian Minister David Clarinval, whose the country holds the presidency of the EU.

Beyond these short-term measures, which the European executive could quickly ratify, Brussels has opened the door to “medium-term” legislative revisions, in negotiation with States and MEPs, of the CAP adopted in 2021.

In the immediate future, “we need something pragmatic, operational […] within the current rules,” said French Minister Marc Fesneau upon his arrival.

“But some things require changing the basic act. Whether this legislative change spans the European elections [in June] does not matter. The important thing is to set a trajectory, lay the foundations for a CAP that reassures in the long term, he insisted.

At the same time, Paris is calling for amendments to legislation in preparation restricting polluting emissions from poultry and pig farms.

“Bureaucratic Monster”

“There is a lot of anger: the current CAP is a bureaucratic monster” and reforms are “necessary” to favor “work in the fields rather than paperwork”, conceded German Minister Cem Özdemir.

But without “false solutions”: “We must guarantee that we can make money from biodiversity. Anyone who advocates a pause in climate protection is anything but a friend of farmers,” he warns, as the specter of an unraveling of green bonds looms large.

Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said he was open to simply making several environmental conditions “incentivized” (fallow, crop rotation, etc.).

“There is support from states and MEPs. It’s theoretically possible to achieve this by summer,” he argued.

Outside the CAP, “there are elements [of the legislation] of the Green Deal which are requested from farmers but not remunerated, this is the heart of the problem”, added David Clarinval.< /p>

Agricultural organizations are demanding a “definitive end” to trade negotiations with the South American Mercosur countries, and “better value sharing” with manufacturers and distributors.

A “vast” but vital structural project according to Vincent Delobel, goat breeder and administrator of the Walloon Fugea union: “We can't make a living from our work, the PAC bonuses come in an infusion” .

Another explosive subject: Brussels proposed measures to restrict Ukrainian imports, accused of hampering the markets, but without reassuring. In Poland, farmers are still blocking border crossings.

Tractors block central Madrid again

Thousands of farmers demonstrate on Monday in the center of Madrid, where they once again entered by tractor, to protest against the difficulties of the sector in Spain.

In a concert of horns and bells, dozens of tractors reached the Ministry of Agriculture at midday in front of which several thousand farmers paraded with signs indicating in particular “the countryside is in the abyss and the government doesn't care.”

This new mobilization follows that of last Wednesday when 500 tractors entered Madrid.

“We will go to the end but the strength is dwindling” because these demonstrations represent economic “losses”, the farmers having to leave their farms, Maria Villoslada Garcia, winegrower of 43 years old from the La Rioja region (north), in the Madrid demonstration called by the three main Spanish agricultural unions (Asaja, COAG and UPA).

“We are waiting for solutions, but quick ones” from the EU and Spain “because we are asphyxiated” and “our work costs us more than it brings in,” she added.

Like her, Spanish farmers have been demonstrating almost continuously since February 1, notably by blocking roads.

“We are fewer and fewer young people [in the profession] and that is the consequence of all this, of the costs,” denounced Victor Iglesias, a 24-year-old cereal farmer in the province of Salamanca (center).

Like their European colleagues, Spanish farmers are protesting against competition that they consider unfair from countries outside the EU, which are therefore not subject to the same rules, and against a bureaucracy and standards that they consider too heavy.

They also denounce purchase prices for their production that are too low within the framework of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and a lack of aid to the sector.

They have been received on several occasions since the start of their movement by the Minister of Agriculture Luis Planas, who has undertaken in particular to defend in Brussels a simplification of the CAP and to improve the law Spanish on the food chain to prevent farmers from selling their products at a loss.

France Media Agency

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116