Irish farmers protest in solidarity with European counterparts

Series of concessions to agricultural sector by political leaders fail to defuse rowdy demonstrations

More than 1,000 tractors descended on Brussels as European Union leaders met on Thursday, blaring horns and causing widespread disruption in a farmers’ protest about squeezed incomes and against tighter regulation. Protesters burned debris and toppled a statue honouring the Belgian steel industry that stood outside the European Parliament, which was protected by a police line and barbed wire, in the culmination of weeks of farmers’ demonstrations across different EU countries.

Meanwhile, thousands of farmers turned out at protests across Ireland on Thursday evening. Hundreds of tractors and other large farming vehicles paraded through towns and along motorways across the country.

“Farmers are saying enough is enough. The message is clear. The Government needs to sit down with us and sort out the over-regulation which is driving farmers to the wall,” said Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Francie Gorman

The Irish demonstrations were designed to show solidarity with farmers protesting in Germany, France, Belgium and other EU member states.


“They feel they are being regulated out of business by Brussels bureaucrats and Department of Agriculture officials who are far removed from the reality of day-to-day farming,” said Mr Gorman. “Irish farmers are pro-EU, but there is mounting frustration about the impact of EU policy on European farmers, and its implementation here in Ireland.”

Arriving at a summit overshadowed by the protests, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told reporters he understood “the pressures that our farmers are under, whether it’s increased energy costs, fertiliser costs and new environmental regulations”.

“I think the priority for us should be implementing existing rules and regulations, not imposing new additional ones for farmers for the next couple of years,” he said.

European Parliament president Roberta Metsola told farmers in a press conference: “We see you, we hear you” and urged them to make their voices heard in coming elections in June.

The toppling of the statue was condemned by Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo as “completely wrong”, saying there should be no clash between agriculture and industry. “We need both for a strong and sustainable economy,” he wrote on social media.

On Wednesday the European Commission announced it would suspend a plan that would have required farmers to set aside 4 per cent of land to encourage the recovery of nature and soil health in order to qualify for subsidies.

The protests in Brussels follow similar demonstrations in Germany, Poland, Romania and the Netherlands, and have increased nervousness among the centre-right political family of Mr Varadkar, Ms Metsola and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen about the potential of losing the votes of a disaffected rural electorate in June.

At stake is the EU’s ambition to reach commitments to reduce emissions and prevent catastrophic levels of climate change, while acting to stop a collapse in biodiversity that has seen the number of vital insects plummet in Europe in the past few decades.

A revolt in the agricultural sector in countries that border Ukraine has also dented solidarity with Kyiv in some of its otherwise strongest allies as farmers complained that the EU’s dropping of trade restrictions led to unfair competition from cheap imports from next door.

The EU reduced its trade barriers with Ukraine and Moldova following Russia’s invasion in an attempt to support their economies and prevent a global food crisis as sea exports were blocked from the agricultural behemoth. This week the commission extended the free trade arrangements but added tweaks that would allow national capitals to seek restrictions if they face a glut of produce.

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Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter