Water cannon in Brussels as protesting farmers use tractors to break police cordon (VIDEO)
At least one police officer has been injured in the clashes with protesters, Ruptly video agency reports from the scene.
The farmers arrived in the EU capital on tractors to express their anger over falling milk and meat prices.
"Prices have gone down 30-40 percent for most farmers and our farms are really going bankrupt like this," Sieta van Keimpema, vice-president of the European Milk Board farmers group, told AP.
According to organizers, at least 6,000 farmers have gathered in Brussels and some 2,000 tractors are currently blocking traffic in and around the city.
"The milk price is under or around 28 cents [per liter, about 0.2 gallons]. And this is not enough even to cover the costs," Heinz Thorwarth, a farmer from Fuchsstadt, southern Germany, told AP.
The farmers also voiced their disagreement with cheap imports from outside the European Union and called for more direct financial help from their governments.
The rally is taking place in front of the EU headquarters, where the union’s agricultural ministers have gathered for extraordinary session to discuss the farming crisis.
The European Dairy Association’s Alexander Anton said, “The current market situation affects not only the farming community, but also the whole supply chain.”
Green MEP Molly Scott Cato added that EU agriculture ministers “clearly need to provide urgent assistance to those farmers hit by the crisis of overproduction and plummeting prices.”
€500 million in farm aid
The European Commission announced a set of measures with an estimated cost of €500 million ($557 million) aimed at supporting farmers hit by falling procurement prices, stabilizing agricultural markets, and improving the efficiency of the supply chain.
“This package will allow for €500 million of EU funds to be used for the benefit of farmers immediately. This is a robust and decisive response,” said European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen.
The measures will allow EU member-states to make some advance payments to farmers, while the European Commission and the European Investment Bank will be developing a set of regulatory instruments that would link repayments to farmers with commodity prices.
The Commission said it would propose a new private storage scheme for pork products along with an increased budget for promoting products in 2016. It also seeks to strike a number of bilateral trade agreements, particularly with Canada and Vietnam.
A scheme for distributing the support has not yet been finalized, although the Commission said it would pay “particular regard to those Member States which have been most affected by market developments.”
The farmers are still unsure about their future, however.
“We are now in early September, bills have not been paid for the summer and a lot of milk producers will not be able to see their way through the winter unless cash is put on the table immediately,” Mansel Raymond, dairy chairman at Copa, said.