Watch: Angry farmers block streets, dump manure and clash with police in Brussels

An estimated 1,500 trucks descended on Brussels to protest against environmental regulation and the cost-of-living crisis.
An estimated 1,500 trucks descended on Brussels to protest against environmental regulation and the cost-of-living crisis. Copyright Harry Nakos/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Gregoire Lory
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Farmers from all over Europe marched into Brussels on Monday morning to protest against a varied range of issues, including low prices for their products, environmental regulation and free-trade deals.

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Belgian, Dutch, French and Italian producers were among those who took part in the demonstration, which saw an estimated 1,000 tractors take over Rue de la Loi, the street in Brussels that hosts the main European Union institutions, and its surroundings.

The protest was deliberately timed to coincide with a closely watched meeting of the bloc's agriculture ministers, where they discussed targeted changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the reduction of bureaucratic burden.

The scenes quickly turned chaotic: farmers set ablaze tires and rubbish containers, threw eggs and smoke bombs, disrupted road traffic, and broke through some of the barricades that the police had set to cordon off the institutional buildings. A manure-guzzling truck soiled the streets, while hay was abundantly spread in several areas.

Police officers, clad with helmets and shields, tried to push back, resorting to tear gas and water cannons. In some instances, tractors and police vehicles clashed head-on.

The turmoil brought Schuman roundabout near the European Commission's headquarters to a halt, as buses were diverted and many EU officials chose to stay home and telework.

Morgan Ody, the general coordinator of Via Campesina, a small farmers' association that helped organise Monday's protests, said the EU needed to abandon the "neo-liberal logic" that has led to prices that "are far too low and don't cover our production costs."

"We want floor prices, prices that cover our production costs so that we can make a living from our trade," Ody told Euronews. "We're asking for it to be enshrined in European law that prices paid to farmers cannot be below our production costs. Spain has done it. Why don't we do it at (the) European level?"

Since the eruption of the farmers' protests in January, the Commission has made calculated overtures to appease their anger, including by partially exempting producers from a set-aside obligation and enabling national restrictions on tariff-free grain from Ukraine. In a speech before MEPs, President Ursula von der Leyen announced the withdrawal of a contentious law that aimed to halve the use and risks of pesticides by 2030, which was largely stuck. It marked the first major defeat under the Green Deal.

But for Tijs Boelens, one of the farmers who took part in Monday's demonstration, these policy gestures are not enough.

"We don't just want a few crumbs. We want the bread, and if we don't want the bread, we want the bakery," Boelens said. "So this Europe needs to stop trying to appease us with anti-environmental or anti-social measures. No, they have to support us in developing sustainable agriculture."

Watch the video above to see scenes from the protests.

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