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European Farmers Keep Up Protests During EU Meeting

Farmers gather outside the European Parliament for a protest as European leaders meet for an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)
Farmers gather outside the European Parliament for a protest as European leaders meet for an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)
European Farmers Keep Up Protests During EU Meeting
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European farmers held protests Thursday to demand government help in dealing with rising costs and environmental rules.

One of the protests happened in Brussels, Belgium, where EU leaders gathered for a summit meeting on Thursday.

Some farmers drove tractors onto the grounds of the European Parliament building to bring attention to their demands. Protesters also lit off fireworks and threw eggs and bottles at police in the area, The Associated Press reported.

Smoke could also be seen around parts of Brussels as some farmers set pieces of hay on fire, the news agency said. Security forces put out the fires and moved in to protect EU buildings.

In Paris, French farmers continued to block traffic on major roadways around the city. Farmers in several European nations have been holding mostly peaceful protests in recent weeks.

The farmers say it is harder to make a good living because of high operating costs. Costs for fuel and fertilizer have risen sharply in Europe since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They also say they have been hurt by increased competition and weather conditions.

France’s government sent in armored vehicles to Paris’ large Rungis food market, which was targeted by demonstrators. French police told Reuters news agency they arrested 79 people who entered a storage center at the market.

The market is an important supplier of fruits and vegetables to France and other nations. Rungis has repeatedly become a target for European farmers, many of whom traveled a long way to bring their tractors there.

One farmer who traveled to Brussels to protest was 26-year-old Luca Mouton. He told Reuters, "Time is up. (EU leaders must) think of the farmers. Talk to the farmers rather than about the farmers, discuss what is possible. We are open to dialogue."

Jean-Francois Ricker is a farmer from southern Belgium who spent the night in the cold near EU headquarters. He told the AP he hoped a lot of protesters would show up to demonstrate how important the issues are to farmers across Europe. “We are going to show that we do not agree…,” said Ricker.

The purpose of Thursday’s EU summit was mainly to approve a proposal to provide Ukraine with a new $54 billion aid deal. But Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo urged EU leaders to also hear the farmers' demands. Belgium currently holds the EU presidency.

De Croo said governments “need to make sure that (farmers) can get the right price for the high-quality products that they provide.” He also urged an easing of some environmental rules that farmers have said can hurt their profits.

Farmers are an important voting group within the EU as well as in their own countries. This has led some leaders to offer some new proposals.

The European Commission announced plans Wednesday to offer protections to farmers facing increased competition from low-cost imports from Ukraine. The body also proposed easing restrictions on how much of a farmer’s own land he can use while still receiving support from the EU.

Earlier in the week, France’s government promised to provide farmers emergency aid and some new controls on imported food. On Thursday, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal offered more measures. They included a move to permit farmers to use more pesticides if other nations do the same and an offer to increase financial aid and tax breaks.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press and Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

summit –n. a meeting of high-level officials or national leaders

hay –n. dried grass

fertilizer – n. a natural or chemical substance you put on land in order to make plants grow well

dialogue – n. an official discussion between countries or groups of people

pesticide – n. a chemical that is used to kill insects that damage plants