Farmers held demonstrations outside the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday as protests against environmental legislation and other grievances spread across the continent.
While the event was smaller in size compared to similar demonstrations seen recently in Germany, France and Romania, the presence of a handful of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from far-right groups signalled that farmers’ disgruntlement is shaping the political agenda.
Demonstrators spoke of brewing discontent with the EU’s flagship Green Deal policies as well as free trade deals with third countries, citing damage to their markets and incomes.
In France, farmers have cut off major roads in recent days in protest at the government’s environmental regulations and rising energy costs. Similar demonstrations have been seen in Romania and Germany, where farmers call for lower taxes and fairer subsidies.
“We want to show that, in France as in the rest of the EU, it’s not technocrats – who have no idea how hard or difficult it is to produce quality product in France – who will decide,” Patrick Legras, a farmer and member of French farmers’ union Coordination Rurale, told Euronews.
Legras also called for a stop to low-standard agricultural imports that threaten the livelihood of European farmers.
Jorge Buxadé, a Spanish MEP for the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group said it is their “political conviction” to help European farmers.
“We voted against the Common Agricultural Policy, which led to a reduction in the aid that our farmers deserve,” he explained, adding that the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) was capitalising on farmers’ discontent from “pure interest” and to earn political points.
The demonstrations came just a day before the European Commission is set to launch its so-called “dialogue” on agriculture, designed to “depolarise” the debate around the green transition.
The bloc’s ambitious climate goals and green industrial policies are tipped to be one of the main mobilisers of the EU electorate in the European elections on 6-9 June.
Earlier on Wednesday, the EU’s trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis defended the Green Deal as the bloc’s “long-term” initiative that aims at achieving climate neutrality by 2050, adding that it’s “clearly important” that the work continues into the next legislature after June’s vote.
The Commission’s social rights chief Nicolas Schmit – the lead candidate for the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in June’s election – said the bloc had a responsibility to “defend” the Green Deal and implement “in a fair, just way so that in the end everyone can be a winner.”
The recent protests, which have seen tractors blockading roads in major European cities including the German capital of Berlin, have shown the cross-border relevance of farmers’ discontent.