Protesting farmers jam Brussels with tractors as ministers meet

By Thomson Reuters Feb 26, 2024 | 3:16 AM

By Kate Abnett and Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Farmers jammed part of Brussels with tractors on Monday in a protest to demand EU action on issues ranging from cheap supermarket prices to free trade deals, as agricultural ministers gathered to discuss the crisis in the sector.

Around 100 tractors were parked around the European Union institutions’ headquarters on Monday morning ahead of planned speeches, a short distance from where ministers were to meet.

The road leading from the EU district to central Brussels was clogged by columns of tractors. Police had cordoned off a wide area surrounding EU buildings, where EU member states’ agriculture ministers were arriving to discuss what more they can do to respond to farm workers’ demands.

Farmers across Europe have staged weeks of protests to demand action from policymakers on an array of pressures they say the sector is under – from cheap supermarket prices, to low-cost imports that undercut local producers, to strenuous EU environmental rules.

The farmers’ association European Coordination Via Campesina said the EU had not yet done enough to address the economic pressures. Belgian, German, Dutch and French farming associations called on their members to join the new protest in Brussels on Monday.

Some 1,300 tractors had already snarled up Brussels on Feb 1, during an EU leaders’ summit.

The groups’ demands include more action to guarantee farmers fair prices for their produce, and ending free trade agreements, which they say have led to cheaper imports from countries where farmers face less stringent environmental standards than those of the EU.


A stage set up at the protest site on Monday was draped with a sign that said “stop EU Mercosur” – a reference to ongoing negotiations to conclude an EU trade agreement with the Mercosur group of South American countries.

The European Commission has said the conditions that would allow the EU to sign the Mercosur deal have not been met. It has sought stronger assurances on environmental standards in the deal.

Agriculture ministers meeting on Monday were set to debate a new set of EU proposals to ease the pressure on farmers – including a reduction in farm inspections and the possibility to exempt small farms from some environmental standards.

In response to weeks of protests by angry farmers, the EU has already weakened some parts of its flagship Green Deal environmental policies.

The EU scrapped, at the last minute, a goal to cut farming emissions from its 2040 climate roadmap.

Following another farmers’ protest in Brussels at the start of this month, the EU also withdrew a law to reduce pesticides and delayed a target for farmers to leave some land fallow to improve biodiversity.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Angus MacSwan)