EU stink! Farmers throw manure and flaming missiles at riot cops outside European Union’s Brussels HQ as Belgian shops admit they will have empty shelves due to protests demanding less red tape
Furious farmers have thrown manure and flaming missiles at riot cops outside the European Union’s Brussels headquarters today, as shops in Belgium admitted they may soon have empty shelves due to the protests.
Convoys with hundreds of angry agricultural workers driving heavy-duty tractors blockaded the HQ, hell-bent on having their complaints about excessive costs, rules and bureaucracy heard by the bloc’s leaders.
After warming themselves at burning piles of pallets, the farmers this morning mounted their vehicles and entered the Belgian capital to the rumble of engines, fireworks and blaring horns, in the culmination of weeks of protests in Europe.
The square in front of the EU Parliament became filled with tractors and farmers set up bonfires. As riot cops stood guard behind barricades and staffers watched from the front steps, the angry farmers hurled eggs, manure and stones at the building.
Major thoroughfares in Brussels, the heart of the European Union, were blocked by around 1,000 tractors, according to a police estimate, in similar scenes of unrest that have taken place in other European countries this week.
The impact of the protests is already being felt with disruptions to supply chains.
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.
Furious farmers have thrown manure and flaming missiles at riot cops outside the European Union’s Brussels headquarters today
As the protests raged in the country’s capital, shops in Belgium admitted they may soon have empty shelves due to farmers blocking key supply points
A man throws an egg at the EU’s Brussels headquarters today during the farmer protests
Pedestrians walks past parked tractors and burning straws near the European Parliament during a protest by farmers as European leaders meet for an EU summit in Brussels
Convoys with hundreds of angry agricultural workers (pictured) driving heavy-duty tractors advanced toward the HQ, hell-bent on having their complaints about excessive costs, rules and bureaucracy heard by the bloc’s leaders
This morning, the square in front of the EU Parliament became filled with tractors and farmers set up bonfires. As riot cops stood guard behind barricades and staffers watched from the front steps, the angry farmers hurled eggs at the building
Security personnel in riot gear stood guard behind barriers at the EU headquarters where the leaders are due to meet, primarily about a new support package to send to Ukraine for its on-going, gruelling war against Russia.
Leaders agreed a deal on giving the war-torn country a new support package, but Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo said the farmers’ demands needed to be addressed.
‘We also need to make sure that they can get the right price for the high quality products that they provide. We also need to make sure that the administrative burden that they have remains reasonable,’ said Mr De Croo, whose country currently holds the presidency of the EU.
It was not clear, however, if any concrete proposals would emerge from the meeting.
But the farmers are likely to squeeze their plight onto the informal agenda after causing havoc across EU countries including France, Germany, Italy and Belgium.
Outside, protesters pelted police with firecrackers and beer bottles.
With thick smoke from burning bales of hay hanging over parts of Belgian capital, security forces used water cannons to douse fires and keep a farmer from felling a tree on the steps of the European Parliament.
A statue on Place du Luxembourg was also toppled.
The square features a statue of John Cockerill, a prominent British-Belgian 19th-century industrialist, and is surrounded by other industrial figures from that period.
From pictures, it appeared to be one of the smaller statues that sits half-way up the plinth – which has the statue of Cockerill at the top – that was toppled and dragged into a bonfire.
Jean-Francois Ricker, a farmer from southern Belgium who braved the winter night close to EU headquarters, said earlier he expected 1,000 to 1,400 vehicles in the city.
‘There will be a lot of people, we are going to show that we do not agree and that it is enough, but our aim is not to demolish everything.’
Kevin Bertens, a farmer from just outside Brussels, said: ‘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.
‘We must have hope that these people see that farming is necessary.
‘It’s the food, you know,’ he added.
Riot cops are seen forming a protective line in front of the EU headquarters in Brussels today
A farmer throws an egg at the EU headquarters in Brussels today
Burning tyres are seen in front of a group of protesting farmers in central Brussels today
Anti riot police spray water from a house to douse bonfires lit by farmers in Brussels today
A burning tire is seen on the road outside the EU parliament building in Brussels today
A toppled statue is seen in front of the Place du Luxembourg in Brussels. The square features a statue of John Cockerill, a prominent British-Belgian 19th-century industrialist, and is surrounded by other industrial figures from that period. This appears to be one of the small statues that sits half-way up the plinth which has the statue of Cockerill at the top
Farmers burn straw and tyres during a protest outside the European Parliament today
Major thoroughfares in Brussels, the heart of the European Union, were blocked by around 1,000 tractors, according to a police estimate
Farmers are seen in the centre of Brussels today, along-side their tractors
Smoke rises from a fire burning as Belgian farmers use their tractors to block the European Union headquarters ahead of a key EU summit today
A woman passes between a column of tractors parked in central Brussels today
Boots and flowers are placed on barricades outside of the European parliament building
The protesters are farmers feeling ever-more squeezed by anything from higher energy prices, cheaper foreign competition that does not have to abide by strict EU rules, inflation, climate change – that has withered, flooded or burned crops – but also climate policies imposed by the EU.
Similar protests have been held across the EU for most of the week.
Farmers blocked more traffic arteries across Belgium, France and Italy on Wednesday, as they tried to disrupt trade at major ports and other economic lifelines to drive their message home to their governments, as well as Brussels.
While the days of mushrooming discontent have been largely peaceful, French police arrested 91 protesters who forced their way into Europe’s biggest food market on Wednesday, the Paris police chief said.
Today, armoured vehicles block entrances to the sprawling site at Rungis, south of the French capital, which feeds much of the city and its surrounding area.
Farmers gathered in the square early this morning, lighting bonfires and toppling statues
Farmers sit next to a fire in front of the European Parliament as they demonstrate on the sidelines of a EU summit in Brussels
A toppled statue is seen in the square outside the European Parliament having been dragged on to a bonfire by farmers protesting outside the building this morning
Farmers arriving in Brussels on Thursday have been insisting their protest will be peaceful and security forces have handled the protests lightly so far.
The protests had an immediate impact on Wednesday – the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, announced plans to shield farmers from cheap exports from Ukraine during wartime and allow farmers to use some land that had been forced to lie fallow for environmental reasons.
The plans still need to be approved by the bloc’s 27 member states and European Parliament, but they amounted to a sudden and symbolic concession.
‘I just would like to reassure them that we do our utmost to listen to their concerns. I think we are addressing two very important (concerns) of them right now,’ European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said.
The French government has dropped plans to gradually reduce subsidies on agricultural diesel and promised more aid.
But farmers say that is not enough.
The protests across Europe come ahead of European Parliament elections in June in which the far right, for whom farmers represent a growing constituency, is seen making big gains, according to recent polling.
While the farmers’ crisis is not officially on the agenda of the EU summit, it is bound to be discussed, at least on the margins.
Already, with all eyes on Viktor Orban as the other 26 EU leaders want to convince him at the summit to join a plan to offer stable financing to Ukraine, the Hungarian Prime Minister made a point of meeting farmers overnight.
rows of tractors are seen parked in central Brussels amid the protests today
‘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.
‘The @EU_Commission should represent the interests of European farmers against those of Ukraine, not the other way around,’ he quoted Orban as saying.
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.
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