Belgian farmers protest against EU policies by blocking port

Belgian farmers staged a protest on Tuesday by blocking access roads to the Zeebrugge container port, the second-largest in the country.

On Tuesday, Belgian farmers staged a protest against rising costs, EU environmental policies and cheap food imports by blocking access roads to the Zeebrugge container port.

The protesters said they aimed to shut down the North Sea port, the second-largest in the country, for at least 36 hours. They claimed the port was getting economic benefits at the expense of farmers.

A spokesman for the port authority said the protesters had stopped five roads for trucks, but allowed cars to pass. He said the impact on the port’s operations was unclear, and the port was in indirect contact with the organisers via the police.

The protest was supported by the Algemeen Boerensyndicaat (ABS, General Farmers Syndicate) union, which urged its members to participate.

“The farmers are desperate, really desperate. We’ve been warning the government for years that this would happen,” said Mark Wulfrancke, a policy officer for ABS.

Wulfrancke called on policymakers to make sure the food price reflects the extra costs that European farmers have to bear to meet the EU’s increasing environmental standards.

“We want respect from our government, the European government. The only way to show that respect is to have a policy that is friendly to farmers and food. We need a fair price,” he said to Reuters.

The protest in Belgium was inspired by similar actions in France, where farmers have created dozens of roadblocks and disturbed traffic in Paris, putting pressure on the government.

Belgian farmers also caused traffic problems during the morning peak hour on Tuesday. One of the blockades was near the Dutch border on the E19 highway, according to media reports.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo is expected to meet with farmers’ associations on Tuesday.

“It is important that they are heard,” De Croo said to reporters, referring to the difficulties that farmers face.

He said Belgium, which holds the six-month presidency of the Council of the EU, will talk about some European agricultural rules with the European Commission.

A group of farmers who blocked a square in central Brussels with tractors said they would not move until at least Thursday, when EU leaders meet in the city.

“They need to revise their laws,” said Nicolas Fryers, a farmer at the protest. “They say they want to be greener but if that happens then some land will be left unused and it’s already hard enough as it is.”

The European Commission seemed ready to offer some policy changes in response, by suggesting an exemption on Thursday on rules that require farmers to leave some of their land fallow if they apply for EU subsidies.

The rules on fallow land were among the complaints that sparked protests in France and other countries in recent weeks.

Share this news
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments