Tractors back in Brussels as talks continue

Henry

Hundreds of tractors were again seen on the streets of Brussels on Monday while European ministers were busy with discussions about the relaxation or adaptation of agricultural and environmental measures that have many EU farmers in the chickens.

According to the police, around 900 tractors gathered for the second time this month near the European Union’s head office. Police officers fired water cannons while farmers burned tires and set off fireworks in the streets.

Demonstrations began in March last year when farmers from Flanders rebelled against the government’s plans to limit nitrogen emissions from fertilizers and livestock.

The production and use of nitrogen fertilizers and livestock waste generate greenhouse gas emissions that can promote climate change.

The agricultural industry maintains that it will be hit too hard by the decisions and some farms, which according to the government cause too much pollution, will have to be closed.

Farmers from Spain, Portugal and Italy joined their Belgian counterparts for the latest show of force.

In addition to challenges faced by farmers in Brussels, more and more European farmers are revolting over lower food prices, rising levies for farmers, higher fuel prices and other environmental protection rules that they say are unacceptable.

Thousands of Spanish farmers also protested outside the agriculture department in central Madrid on Monday, holding placards with words such as:

“The countryside is on the precipice and the government doesn’t care.”

Maria Villoslada Garcia, a 43-year-old wine farmer from northern Spain, told AFP that they are waiting for urgent solutions from the Spanish government and the EU. She thinks farmers are “suffocating” because their outputs are much more than their income.

Victor Iglesias, a 24-year-old grain farmer from central Spain, says there are fewer and fewer young farmers because it has simply become too expensive to farm.

EU ministers met on Monday to examine proposals for simplifying the group’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in efforts to calm tempers.

“We need something practical, something operational,” France’s agriculture minister, Marc Fesneau, told AFP reporters.

While he argued that there is room for adjustments “within the current rules”, changes to legislation are needed to meet certain demands.

“Whether it happens before or after the European elections, it doesn’t matter. What matters is moving forward.”

“We must set a goal and lay the foundation of a common agricultural policy that reassures people.”

The proposals by the European Commission would relax some environmental restrictions on farmers, including easing demands for former cattle farmers to convert their land into grassland.

The commission also intends to simplify administration and change the way inspections work, in an effort to reduce the number of farm visits by 50%.

Several other measures, including import measures, may also be relaxed, extended or adjusted.