The farmers’ demonstration was anything but peaceful. They pelted the entrance to the European Parliament with eggs and empty beer bottles. They spread straw and manure on Luxemburgplein, nearby. Farmers also set off fireworks, set fires several times and removed a statue from its pedestal. The farmers threw the statue on a pile of burning garbage.
Around 10:30 am, farmers tried to break through a police barrier. The police stopped them with a fire hose. Later, several skirmishes followed between the farmers and the police, during which the police used tear gas. At the beginning of the afternoon, peace returned to the center of Brussels.
Most of the demonstrating farmers came from Wallonia, but there were also participants from Flanders and from France and Italy, among others. The Belgian farmers’ protests are aimed at the low prices of agricultural products, free trade agreements, the nitrogen policy and, in the eyes of the farmers, European regulations that are too strict.
About the author
Daan de Vries is a general reporter for de Volkskrant.
Farmers’ protests also took place elsewhere in Belgium on Thursday. Near Bruges, a van crashed into a traffic jam caused by a road blockade by protesting farmers. Two people were injured, VRT reports. One of the victims was taken to hospital with serious injuries. Near Lummen, in Belgian Limburg, two trucks collided in a traffic jam caused by farmers. A driver became trapped and his life is in danger, the police reported.
In Ghent, farmers with tractors blocked the city ring. The protest there coincided with a symposium on the future of European agriculture. According to the police, more than 400 tractors were on the Ghent ring road on Thursday morning. The protest was peaceful. ‘Agreements have been made in advance and the farmers are adhering to them. They follow the guidelines in a very disciplined manner,” said a police spokesperson. The blockade in Ghent caused a lot of traffic disruption. The farmers also started a fire at a roundabout at the end of the morning.
The farmers have been blocking some access roads to the port of Zeebrugge since the beginning of the week. Shipping company CLdN calls the situation ‘untenable’. The blockade “is putting severe pressure on supply chains across Europe,” the shipping company said. According to police, around 1,400 trucks have been stranded by the blockade. The farmers do not allow trucks to enter the port. However, on Thursday afternoon, just like the day before, they allowed trucks to leave the port for a while.
Since last week
The farmers’ protests in Belgium started last week. The farmers were inspired by their French colleagues, who have been protesting for several weeks against both French and European agricultural policy.
In Belgium, the actions started with the blockade of several highway junctions by mainly Walloon farmers, which resulted in long traffic jams on Monday. Farmers also blocked the distribution centers of supermarket chains with tractors.
Later, Flemish farmers also joined the protests. Their anger is mainly aimed at the Flemish nitrogen policy. For Walloons, European regulations are at the top of the complaints list.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo ‘understands’ the demonstrating farmers, but also warns them. “Our farmers must ensure that they do not lose the support they have today.” He therefore calls on farmers to stop blocking distribution centers. The Prime Minister also expresses the hope that farmers ‘will not turn to vandalism or violence.’
The blockages of distribution centers threaten to lead to empty shelves in Belgian supermarkets. In some places the blockade has already lasted four days. At a Lidl distribution center, the blocking farmers allowed a truck to collect perishable food for food banks. Nevertheless, according to the supermarket chains, it is inevitable that they will have to throw away large quantities of food if the blockages continue.