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In Brussels, frustrated European farmers clash with police

Tractors owned by angry farmers are seen outside the European Commission building in Brussels, Belgium, February 26, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

Angry farmers from across Europe have clashed with police outside the European Council building in Brussels.

It all took place on Monday as European Union agriculture ministers had gathered for a meeting.

The protesters sprayed officers with liquid manure, setting fire to piles of tires.

Police spray a water canon during a demonstration by angry farmers in Brussels, Belgium, February 26, 2024. (Photo by AP)

The Brussels police said 900 tractors had entered the city with more than 100 parked around the EU headquarters, a short distance from the cordoned-off area where the ministers were arriving for the meeting on the farmers’ grievances.

The farmers complain they are not making a living. They want the EU agriculture officials to sketch out new rules and regulations to address cheap supermarket prices, free trade deals and an EU environmental piece of legislation that is hurting the farming industry.

The frustrated farmers say they are witnessing the slow death of working the land.

“Agriculture. As a child you dream of it, as an adult you die of it,” said one farmer.

Marieke Van De Vivere, a farmer from the Ghent region in northern Belgium, said the EU agriculture ministers need to “be reasonable to us, to come with us on a day to work on the field, or with the horses or with the animals, to see that it is not very easy … because of the rules they put on us.”

The protest in Brussels is the latest in a series of demonstrations of that type across Europe.

Spanish farmers also protested in Madrid on Monday, causing traffic disruptions.

The EU presidency, currently held by Belgium, acknowledged that the farmers’ concerns include the burden of respecting environmental policies, a drop in assistance from the bloc’s agricultural subsidy system and the impact of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s grain supplies.

“We hear, clearly, their complaints,” said David Clarinval, Belgium’s agriculture minister. Still, he urged them to refrain from violence. “We can understand that some are in difficult circumstances, but aggression has never been a source for solutions.”

French Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau told the few reporters who were permitted by police to enter the building that “there’s a need to send signals immediately to tell farmers that something is changing, not only in the short-term but also in the medium and long-term.”

Irish Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said the priority must be to slash administrative red tape.

The EU should ensure that policies are “straightforward, that they’re proportionate and they’re as simple as possible for farmers to implement,” he said. “We do respect the massively important work that farmers carry out every day in terms of producing food.”

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