With farmers continuing to block roads and target key infrastructure across Europe, several organisations are planning to further turn up the heat on policymakers and rally outside a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday (1 February).
Since the beginning of the year, tractors have taken to the streets in France, Germany, Romania, Poland and Lithuania. Protests have intensified in Belgium and Italy this week, and regional demonstrations are planned in Spain this month.
Several farmers’ organisations – including the Walloon Farmers Association (FWA), the Federation of Young Farmers (FJA) and delegations from Spanish, Portuguese and Italian agricultural organisations – are targeting the EU leaders’ summit on Thursday, planning to bring tractors into the Brussels’ European district.
The European Coordination Via Campesina will also demonstrate against the trade agreement EU-Mercosur in Brussels, with other civil society organisations.
Meanwhile, disruptions continue on major motorways across Belgium and France.
Farmers are calling for better policymaking, with key concerns including rising costs of production, the burden of EU environmental laws and competition with imports from third countries.
The Belgian port of Zeebrugge was blockaded on Tuesday (30 January) and continues to face major disruption. French farmers are targeting the Rungis market south of Paris – the largest fresh food market in Europe.
The distribution centres of supermarket chains have also been targeted in both countries as farmers complain of unfair trading practices by retailers.
In Germany, the mass mobilisations of a few weeks ago have turned into smaller blockades in several regions – notably Bavaria. German farmers blocked access to several ports on Monday, and continue to cause traffic disruptions ahead of a key budget vote in Berlin on Friday.
“The Federal Government’s unwillingness so far to make any further concessions to the agricultural diesel sector has led to an enormous loss of confidence in the Federal Government on the part of farmers,” Joachim Rukwied, President of the farmers’ association said on Wednesday.
Aiming for compromise
In a bid to ease farmers’ discontent, the European Commission on Wednesday proposed a one-year extension to some of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) rules on fallow lands and introduced safeguards mechanisms to limit certain food imports from Ukraine.
But there is no sign yet that the move will end the protests.
In recent days, both the French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and his Belgian counterpart Alexander de Croo have tried to calm dissent by meeting with farmers.
Attal announced a series of measures last week, including a reversal of the government’s decision to raise taxes on agricultural fuel – one of the main demands of French farmers.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he would meet with European Commission President von der Leyen on the sidelines of Thursday’s summit, and pledged to push back against the much-contested EU-Mercosur free trade agreement.
De Croo also pledged to discuss farmers’ concerns with von der Leyen.
Southern countries step up
In Italy, spontaneous rallies have taken place across the country in recent days. The protests are currently scattered across the peninsula.
Farmers have demonstrated outside Milan and near Rome, and ongoing protests in Sardinia, Tuscany and Lombardy are expected to continue.
Greek farmers have also joined the wave of unrest, taking to the streets in the north of the country on Wednesday and planning a demonstration in Thessaloniki on Thursday to coincide with the start of a major agricultural fair.
According to local media, Portuguese farmers will also demonstrate on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the main farming organisations in Spain have announced protests at the regional level in the coming weeks.
They are calling for a halt to free trade negotiations with the Mercosur bloc and other third countries, and for the Spanish government to step up controls at the border with Morocco to ensure that the imported products “comply with the internal regulations of the EU”.
Oliver Noyan and Hugo Struna contributed to this reporting
[Edited by Angelo Di Mambro and Nathalie Weatherald]
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