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Europe farmers take their anger to streets

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-02-05 03:44

Farmers dump spoiled chestnuts on the pavement at an agricultural fair in Thessaloniki, Greece, on Saturday as they protest against rising operating and production costs.SAKIS MITROLIDIS / AFP

Farmers' protests in France, Belgium and some other European Union member states that made big headlines last week largely quietened down over the weekend after a promise made by political leaders, but some farmers are calling for immediate, concrete action.

French farmers started to lift their roadblocks around Paris and other cities across the country on Friday, a day after Prime Minister Gabriel Attal vowed various measures, including more than 400 million euros ($432 million), to help them tackle the problems of low incomes, excessive regulation and unfair foreign competition.

Arnaud Gaillot, president of the Young Farmers union, announced the "suspension of the blockades" and "entering into a new form of mobilization" on Thursday.

"If by June these markers are not met we will not hesitate to reenter into a general mobilization movement," he told a news conference in Paris, along with Arnaud Rousseau, president of the National Federation of Farmers' Unions, the largest farmers union in France.

In Brussels on Thursday, as EU leaders met for their summit, farmers from Belgium, Italy and Spain arrived with tractors to block roads, set bonfires, obstruct food deliveries

to supermarkets and destroy a statue at Place du Luxembourg in front of the European Parliament while local police used water cannon to disperse protesters.

In Greece, about 2,000 farmers protested in the country's second-largest city of Thessaloniki on Saturday calling for increases in aid. Some farmers from mountain villages threw chestnuts and apples that had spoiled because of natural disasters.

On Saturday a convoy of about 150 tractors was poised to descend on Rome, with protesters there calling for better pay and conditions and announcing their imminent arrival in the Italian capital.

The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tried to appease the angry farmers, praising them for playing "an essential role in Europe's economy and society" and showing "remarkable resilience in the face of the recent crises".

Wide protests

Farmers in other EU member states such as Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain staged protests. Agriculture accounts for 1.4 percent of EU GDP.

Von der Leyen acknowledged that many challenges remain, such as tensions on agri-food prices or a very competitive global market and higher environmental standards. "Farmers can count on European support," she said after the EU summit.

She also promised to "defend legitimate interests of farmers in our trade negotiations", adding that "I am very sensitive to the message that farmers are concerned by administrative burden".

While the demands from EU farmers vary, most have centered on high environmental regulation, the influx of food commodities from Ukraine since the conflict with Russia broke out, and the Common Agricultural Policy, the EU's agriculture subsidies program.

Amid widespread protests, the European Commission on Wednesday proposed postponing the requirement to leave 4 percent of arable land fallow each year and impos- ing restrictions on imports of poultry, eggs and sugar from Ukraine.

Ding Chun, director of the Center for European Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said that in addition to farmers' grievances, EU societies are facing numerous internal and external troubles.

"On the external front, supporting Ukraine against Russia is about political correctness for most governments and mainstream societies despite their own heavy economic and financial burdens. On the internal front, the farmers' protests in about 15 countries reflect the EU's lackluster economy and the farmers' plight."

Agencies contributed to this story.

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