Columns of tractors from all over the world entered the center of Herentals on Friday evening around 7.30 pm. After a while, every square meter of the market square was occupied by an agricultural vehicle. Because the city council of Herentals and the local Neteland police heard of the action in the afternoon, they made the north side of the Grote Markt car-free. Police estimated that about two hundred tractors were gathered together.
The fleet may have seemed intimidating, but the farmers themselves kept a low profile except for a few firecrackers. The aim was to make a statement with their massive presence to N-VA, the party of Flemish Minister Zuhal Demir and Prime Minister Jan Jambon. The latter was the guest of honor at the New Year’s reception of N-VA Herentals on Friday in a room on the square. Kempen farmers could hardly pass up this opportunity.
Jan Jambon arrived promptly at 7:30 PM and walked past the farmers into the hall under police escort. Apart from the occasional insult such as ‘traitor to the country’, the farmers allowed him to pass undisturbed. Shortly afterwards he invited a small delegation for an interview. Fifteen minutes later, those farmers were back with their colleagues.
“To be honest, Jan Jambon reacted quite sullen and sullen,” said Gunther Claessens, who has a poultry farm in the Turnhouts Fen area. “He wanted to show that he is the boss. The nitrogen decree was voted for him. We tried on all sides to convince him to reconsider the file, but he did not respond. Nitrogen is not the problem, the SPA areas are (special protection zones, ed.).”
According to the delegation, the Prime Minister countered their scientific arguments with retorts such as ‘what the university says doesn’t interest me at all’. Jambon reiterated that discussions with the various agricultural groups will continue in the coming days.
Speaking and listening
Claessens said that as a fifth-generation farmer, he had just received a permit for his poultry business before the regulations changed. “I had to make all kinds of expensive plans, I built two new stables and got myself into debt for 2 million euros. And then the new regulations came and my company in the Turnhouts Vennengebied was suddenly worthless. It’s a noose around my neck. The politicians really don’t know what they are doing, they are just wiping our farmers off the map.” A farmer from Geel agreed: “I often hear politicians say that they are now going to talk to the farmers, but I don’t hear anyone saying that they are going to listen to the farmers.”
Groups of farmers stood at the two main exits of the hall in the hope of still being able to interpellate the political boss of Flanders. But Jambon was led to his waiting car through the artist entrance on the other side of the building. He was able to leave for Brasschaat completely unnoticed. The last farmers left the Grote Markt around 10:50 p.m.