Farmers protesting in Brussels, Madrid, press ministers to act


  • World
  • Monday, 26 Feb 2024

Smoke rises from burning tires during a protest of European farmers over price pressures, taxes and green regulation, on the day of an EU Agriculture Ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium February 26, 2024. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BRUSSELS/MADRID (Reuters) -Farmers set fire to piles of tyres in Brussels on Monday in a protest to demand action on cheap supermarket prices and free trade deals, as agricultural ministers from across the EU met to discuss the crisis in the sector.

Riot police fired water cannon at protesters throwing bottles and eggs, while about 900 tractors jammed parts of Brussels, a short distance from the cordoned off area where ministers were meeting.

Farmers have been protesting for weeks across Europe 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.

Another protest took place on Monday in Madrid, where farmers from across Spain blew whistles, rang cowbells and beat drums, urging the EU to cut red tape and drop some changes to its Common Agriculture Policy (CAP).

"It's impossible to stand these rules, they want us to work on the field during the day and deal with paperwork at night - we're sick of the bureaucracy," said Roberto Rodriguez, who grows cereal and beetroots in the central province of Avila.

"The new CAP is ruining our lives," said Juan Pedro Laguna, 46,who grows olives, cereal and vegetables near Madrid. "We want to produce like we've always done, but they don't want us to produce."

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Agriculture ministers 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.

German Agriculture Minister Cem Ozdemir said the EU needed to ensure farmers could earn good money if they opted for biodiversity and green measures and talked of existing EU farm policy as being a "bureaucracy monster".

"The average farmer spends a quarter of their time at their desks," he said.

In response to weeks of protests by angry farmers, the EU has already weakened some parts of its flagship Green Deal environmental policies, scrapping a goal to cut farming emissions from its 2040 climate roadmap.

The EU has also withdrawn a law to reduce pesticides and delayed a target for farmers to leave some land fallow to improve biodiversity.

Local grievances vary, and not all farmers call for an end to green rules. Morgan Ody, General Coordinator of farming organisation La Via Campesina, said at the Brussels protest that for most farmers: "It's about income."

"It's about the fact that we are poor, and that we want to make a decent living," she said.

She called on the EU to set up minimum support prices and exit free trade agreements that enable imports of cheaper foreign produce.

"We are not against climate policies. But we know that in order to do the transition, we need higher prices for products because it costs more to produce in an ecological way," she said.

(Reporting by Yves Herman, Christian Levaux, Philip Blenkinsop and Kate Abnett in Brussels, David Latona in Madrid; Writing by Ingrid Melander and Kate Abnett; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Angus MacSwan)

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