Protesting farmers clash with police in Brussels


The dairy farmers protest in Brussels yesterday got out of hand, with fires set and violent clashes with police

€500 million support proposed

As expected, more than 4,800 farmers with 1,000 tractors arrived in Brussels yesterday to demonstrate during a meeting of EU agriculture ministers. As well as the anticipated traffic chaos, the demonstration led to clashes with police.

The day began with loud chants and firecrackers, but, as the protest went on, it became more violent, and police used water cannons and tear gas to try to regain control of the situation. Hay bales were set on fire, and police were pelted with stones and bottles.

“Thanks to the violence of certain hot-heads, our people didn’t get a chance to follow the speeches,” said one farmers’ representative. “We were expecting a friendly demonstration. This is not what we stand for.”

The farmers were protesting against falling prices, particularly for milk and pork, which they blame on ineffective policies. Milk production quotas were scrapped, and production increased. In addition, Russia imposed a boycott on EU exports, and the Chinese market has started shrinking, albeit after several years of spectacular growth.

The demonstrators demanded EU aid, both in direct financial aid to families in need and in structural aid to compensate for lower prices. The EU Commission responded with a proposal to pay €500 million in support, as well as help with export promotion to find new markets. The meeting ended, however, without an agreement being reached. According to federal agriculture minister Willy Borsus, the measure does not go far enough.

The government of Flanders, meanwhile, said it would offer credit guarantees for farmers to pay costs, such as animal feed, or for the refinancing of existing debts on more advantageous terms.

Photo: Harry Proudlove/Demotix/Corbis

Flemish agriculture and horticulture

Flanders is an important global food exporter. The main agricultural activities differ from region to region – with pig, cow, vegetable and dairy-farming the most important. In recent years, the sector has been heavily affected by the economic downturn and falling global food prices.
Green - Organic farming accounts for just a fraction of Flemish agriculture, but the sector has slowly been growing in recent years.
Greenhouse - Flanders has been a trailblazer in mapping the carbon footprint of agriculture.
Forgotten - Flemish horticulture’s “Bel’Orta” label aims to promote lesser-known vegetables like parsnip, parsley root and kohlrabi.

percent of Belgium’s fruit harvest comes from Flanders

25 982

agriculture businesses in Flanders in 2011

51 530

people employed in Flemish agriculture and horticulture in 2011