Farmer protests across Europe cause chaos as workers revolt against agriculture regulations

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Farmer protests across Europe have painted an ugly picture of a system some believe is “on the verge of collapse” as workers take drastic measures to protest an agricultural fuel duty hike, among other grievances at governing bodies in France and Belgium.

Farmers have blockaded roads, hurled livestock manure at government buildings and clashed with police in tense standoffs in Brussels and Paris, airing frustrations over pay, taxes, and an overall dissatisfaction with EU regulations that claim to battle climate change.

France has seen some of the angriest of the farmer protests that have spread across Europe over the past week.

For weeks now, the farmers have been pressuring the government to take immediate action more to help them face inflation, compete with cheap imports and make a living.

Thousands of farmers gathered in Brussels on Thursday, where President Emmanuel Macron held talks with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen to discuss “the future of European agriculture” before an EU summit there Thursday.

Many accused ruling bodies of hypocrisy and short-sightedness as the EU continues to push for a net zero future. One tractor driver aptly summed up the protest movement in Brussels, displaying a banner saying “If you love the earth, support those who manage it”.

Following the summit, Macron told reporters that France had managed to persuade the EU to “impose stricter rules” for cereal and poultry imports, including from Ukraine.

The war to the east has only added fuel to the fire as workers push for consumers to buy local to support their nations’ agriculture industry.

The bloc could limit imports of some Ukrainian agricultural products, on which tariffs were dropped following Russia’s 2022 invasion.

While France stood ready to help Ukraine during its war effort, it also disagreed with “unfair competition that will benefit a few billionaires or industrialists who do not respect our rules”, Macron said.

A group of 79 farmers was released after being held in custody for a Wednesday incursion into Rungis, a wholesale food hub serving the Paris region.

A convoy of tractors that had travelled more than 700 kilometres from the southwestern city of Agen to Rungis hoping to blockade the market was now ready to return home, organisers Coordination Rurale said.

Farmers in Germany, Belgium, Poland, Greece, Italy, Romania and the Netherlands have also demanded action by their governments.

The chaotic scenes have been met with strong condemnation from authorities, forcing France’s leading farming unions to call for an end to the disruption.

Arnaud Rousseau, chief of the biggest rural union FNSEA, and Young Farmers (JA) president Arnaud Gaillot held a news conference to announce the suspension of the action.

His comments followed promises of cash, eased regulations and protection against unfair competition by Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, the government’s second wave of concessions in a week.

Rousseau hailed “real progress” and said Attal had been “listening”. But the union chief warned that new protests could be held if “initial results” from the promises were not in evidence when France’s main agriculture trade fair opens at the end of this month.

Rousseau reserved harsh criticism for the “deafness” of European level officials, lambasting the “technocratic structure walled into its Brussels offices”.

Attal had earlier said he wanted to “better recognise the farming profession” and “protect” farmers against unfair competition.

He offered measures including an annual 150 million euros (A$247 million) for livestock farmers and a ban on food imports treated with thiacloprid, a neonicotinoid pesticide already banned in France.