Belgian farmers spray riot police – and EU – with manure

Brussels police sprayed with manure by angry Belgian farmers
Farmers spray police with manure during a protest of farmers outside a meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Brussels - Harry Nakos/AP Photo

Angry farmers doused police officers with manure and tried to storm barbed-wire barricades erected to protect an EU agriculture ministers meeting in Brussels.

At least 900 tractors rumbled  into the Belgian capital as talks got under way over how to quell protests ignited across the bloc in opposition to costly climate policy and unfair competition from trade deals.

Makeshift checkpoints were erected at the entrances of the city’s European quarter in the hope of preventing the farmers from reaching the heavily-guarded politicians

But a number of the vehicles smashed their way through the barricades and anti-tank obstacles.

Opposite the British embassy in Brussels, riot police were forced to retreat as they were sprayed with manure from a tractor-pulled muck-spreader..

A farmer emits hay from his tractor onto Belgian riot police officers as gas rises from tear gas canisters
A farmer emits hay from his tractor onto Belgian riot police officers as gas rises from tear gas canisters - Nicolas Maeterlinck/AFP

Elsewhere, The Telegraph witnessed a group of farmers, some masked, others wearing hoods, launching fireworks and flares in the direction of a dozen police officers brought in to seal off a road,

Youngsters scurried behind carrying multiple trays of eggs to be used as makeshift weapons as tensions simmered between them and the police.

As the barrage of fireworks, eggs and empty glass bottles increased, the powerful hose of a water cannon was turned on the farmers. It had previously been used to douse a smouldering mound of wooden pallets.

Having beat a hasty retreat to avoid being soaked with freezing water, the farmers regrouped and edged closer towards the police cordon – one man firing flares from a tube in their direction.

While some farmers retreated to underground road tunnels on their tractors they were soon overcome by the smell of diesel and the noise of blaring horns as they revved their engines, in what appeared to be in anticipation of a charge.

Police officers had responded to the escalating violence by hurling canisters of tear gas into the crowd to disperse the protesters.

Dozens of demonstrators, their eyes filled with tears and throats burning, hurried back behind the tractors to the open air outside the tunnel.

Many had turned to a nearby supermarket to purchase water to cleanse their sore eyes but the doors remained shut, with the staff barricade themselves inside.

Those farmers who braved the clouds of tear gas had the water cannon turned on them again.

At least three police officers were injured in the altercations, according to the authorities in Brussels.

Mounds of burning tyres and hay bales were strewn across the Rue de la Loi
A tractor stands near burning tires during a protest of European farmers over price pressures, taxes and green regulation - Yves Herman/Reuters

Elsewhere, the atmosphere was more serene.

Hundreds of tractors were parked all along the Rue de la Loi, a four-lane highway that lies between Brussels’ European quarter, and the EU’s Commission and Council headquarters.

Here protesters lit bonfires made of tyres, hay bales and manure, but were more jovial, handing out bacon and sausage rolls, and voicing their complaints over loudspeakers.

The acrid stench of the burning rubber and flags declaring “no food, no future” would remain with EU officials in the nearby buildings for the rest of the day.

Marianne Streel, president of the Flemish federation of agriculture, yelled: “Free trade agreements, falling revenues and simpler Common Agricultural Policy.”

“We’re here again in Brussels today as farmers because the European Union is not listening to our demands. Our demands are for fair revenue,” Morgan Ody, of farming organisation La Via Campesina, said

Fugea, a group that represents smaller Belgian farmers, declared: “Europe does not seem to understand what is at stake and is coming up with proposals designed to appease the strongest.”

These are common talking points from what has been an eruption of farmers protests in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Greece, Italy and Spain over recent months.

The EU claims their concerns have been acted upon.

Ursula von der Leyen, the commission’s president, recently scrapped a proposal to cut pesticide use and removed emissions reductions for agricultural businesses from future climate policy planning.

And anger over the prospect of cheap imports from South America, should the EU complete its Mercosur trade deal, has member states rethinking the pact.

Farmers unconvinced by gestures

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, faced protests at the Paris International Agricultural Show last weekend.

And as farmers descended on Brussels on Monday, protests also sprung up in Poland and Germany.

A chief complaint from Warsaw is tariff-free imports from Ukraine, which local farmers say have been dumped on their market and dragged down prices.

While that is a challenge too far for the EU because of its overwhelming support for war-torn Kyiv, other policies are being worked on to placate farmers ahead of this year’s European elections.

Ministers in Brussels urged the EU to increase funding to the bloc’s €60 billion (£51 billion) agricultural budget to bring an end to the uprising.

Cam Ozdemir, Germany’s agriculture minister, said farmers had to earn good money if they opted to comply with the EU’s “bureaucracy monster”.

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

Charlie McConalogue, Ireland’s agriculture minister, demanded that the Common Agricultural Policy be “increased and strengthened”.

He argued farmers’ income “hasn’t kept pace” with other industries.

“That is something that we have to address,” he added.

“Farmers need to be paid for what they do,” his Belgian counterpart, David Clarinval, told reporters.

“There are elements of the EU’s climate law demanded of farmers that are not remunerated. That is the core of the problem.”

Will their words please the farmers?

Those behind the protest movement believe that a man who is set to lose everything is a dangerous one.

They say they won’t stop until they get more cooperation from Brussels.