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26 Feb, 2024 14:34

Police fire tear gas at protesting farmers in Brussels

The demonstrators converged on EU headquarters where the bloc’s agricultural ministers were meeting on Monday
Police fire tear gas at protesting farmers in Brussels

Police fired tear gas to disperse protesting farmers near the European Council’s main building in Brussels on Monday, according to footage posted on social media.

Farmers angry at what they perceive as excessive bureaucracy and competition from cheap Ukrainian grain imports tried to break through police barriers as they surrounded the EU headquarters and demanded more support from the bloc. 

The authorities reportedly counted more than 300 tractors in the streets of Brussels, with many parked a few hundred meters from the cordoned-off area where the ministers were meeting. According to videos that have been emerging, the farmers set fire to piles of tires and hay bales strewn across the Rue de la Loi, a four-lane highway that runs parallel to the European Council’s headquarters. The demonstrators also sprayed baton-wielding police officers with manure from a truck that had blockaded a road in the city. Water cannons were deployed to put out the flames.

“There is indeed an ongoing intervention on Rue de la Loi, at Rue du Taciturne, where farmers have set fire to tires. Two sprinklers are on site to try to extinguish the fire,” Brussels police said in a statement as quoted by The Telegraph. Officers reportedly closed access to Schuman Square and a nearby metro station.

The protest came as EU agriculture ministers were meeting to debate new proposals to ease the pressure on farmers, including a reduction in farm inspections and possible exemptions for small farms from certain environmental standards. This was the second major protest by farmers in Brussels in recent weeks.

“There is a clear problem with the reduction of the import tariffs for Ukraine and massive imports of grain and poultry which depresses the prices,” secretary general of the Federation of Young Farmers Guillaume Van Binst said, as quoted by Bloomberg. “The measures proposed by the commission are very weak and it is more passing the hot potato to member states,” he noted.

The EU has been trying to contain the farmer protests that have broken out across the continent, including in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Italy, and Spain. Angry farmers have been complaining about bureaucratic hurdles, trade deals, and climate-related rules and also argue that countries such as Ukraine don’t have to abide by EU regulations and taxes, meaning their products are cheaper and possess an unfair advantage. Several EU ministers plan to meet with representatives of the farmers later on Monday.

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