BRUSSELS — Farmers parked their tractors across key road crossings on the border between Belgium and the Netherlands on Friday in their latest protest against excessive red tape and competition from cheap imports.
The roadblocks, mainly by Belgian farmers with support of some Dutch colleagues, choked highways that are vital transport routes for freight from the major European ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. They were set up after a day of chaos Thursday in Brussels, where angry farmers torched hay bales and threw eggs and firecrackers at police near a summit of European Union leaders.
While blockades sprang up on the Belgian-Dutch border, they were gradually easing around Paris and elsewhere in France after the French government on Thursday offered over 400 million euros ($436 million) in various measures. In Germany, however, lawmakers on Friday approved cuts to fuel subsidies for farmers that have prompted angry protests there.
Jan Jambon, the prime minister of Belgium’s Flemish region, pledged to help the agriculture sector.
“We are going to see what we can reasonably do. But basically, I have a lot of sympathy for their complaints. We are now going to see how we can make that concrete,” he told Belgian broadcaster VTM.
EU leaders on Thursday showered the farmers with compliments and compassion — but few concrete proposals to address their problems.
Farmers complain that it’s becoming harder than ever to make a decent living as energy and fertilizer costs surge because of Russia’s war in Ukraine, more and cheaper farm imports enter Europe, and climate change-fueled droughts, floods or fires wreck their crops.
EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen pledged Thursday to swiftly prepare new plans to slash red tape so that farmers can spend more time in their fields and less in their offices.
Many EU leaders also said they would not approve a trade deal with South American nations that is under consideration unless any imports would meet the same regulatory standards that EU farmers face, a key demand from the sector.