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European farmers: The fight back against the war on farming

European farmers: The fight back against the war on farming

Representatives from European farming groups went to Brussels last Wednesday to make their voices heard and show solidarity in the fight back against the EU’s war on farming.

As the farmer’ protests spread, blockading ports and border entry points, President of the Farmers Defence Force Belgium, Bart Dickens, explains how it all began.

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Before the protest began in Brussels on 24 January 2024, MCC Brussels issued a statement quoting representatives from farming groups.

Richard Schenk, author MCC Brussels’ report ‘The Silent War on Farming’, said: “From our research and from talking to farmers across Europe, it is clear why European farmers are here in Brussels. They are here because the worst excesses of environmental policy are manufactured here, by the European Union. … The result of these policies … [is] the closure of thousands of farms, especially small farms. Not just individual livelihoods but the entire rural way of life has been imperilled. The consequences of this in terms of food security, imports, reduced quality and the offshoring of emissions is obvious.”

Véronique Le Floc’h, president, Coordination Rurale, the French farming group, said: “French farmers are united in their opposition to absurd, extreme and unworkable environmental policies dreamt up by the EU and zealously implemented by the Macron government. Those in power do not spare a thought for the impact of these policies on the livelihoods of farmers, the food security of the nation and the cost-of-living crisis facing ordinary people.”

Helen O’Sullivan from the Irish Farmers’ Alliance said: “Farmers are being blamed for everything when it comes to climate change. We, the farmers, are made out to be environmental terrorists due to misinformation being spread about us … Farmers across Europe have tried hard to comply with each new layer of regulations. We’ve tried to explain our concerns and that these regulations are jeopardising our livelihoods and our nation’s food security. These concerns have been ignored for years.”

Bart Dickens, President of the Farmers Defence Force Belgium, said: “It is not just Farmers who are affected by the EU policies. Everyone else also ends up being affected. Many people working in companies related to agriculture will lose their jobs. Our food will become unaffordable, scarce and of questionable quality … “In the end, it’s all about government control. They want to be able to control everything for their population. They want to control where you live, where you go, your health, your finances and ultimately, even what you can eat. It is time for the entire population of Europe to stop this dictatorship so that we do not lose our freedoms. It starts with erasing agriculture, and then they will start restricting citizens’ freedoms.”

Read more: European farmers come to Brussels to fight environmental regulations, MCC Brussels, 23 January 2024

At the ongoing protest, MCC Brussels asked Dickens and Isobel Proost, Farmers Defence Force Belgium’s Financial Director, how and why they organised the protests and blockades affecting Belgium.

The video below is marked “Brussels” indicating MCC Brussels’ interview took place in Brussels.  It was uploaded onto YouTube on yesterday, but no mention was made of when it was recorded.  As an indication of the timing of the video, Dickens at one point refers to farmers blockading the Belgium port of Zeebrugge which happened on Tuesday, 30 January 2024. Dickens then said, “tonight, we start blocking borders,” which implies the video was recorded on Friday, 2 February.

On Friday, farmers blocked the Dutch-Belgian border and occupied roads in Greece, while a Polish union announced plans to shut border crossings with Ukraine as European protests spread.

AP News reported that “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.”


Please note: English is a second language for those speaking in the video,  we have not edited the transcript to take this into account. Words spoken by Bart Dickens are denoted “BD” and Isobel Proost, “IP.”

BD: And I said: “Okay guys we’re going to have a little fire in Turnhout [in Antwerp, Belgium] tomorrow.”  So, I had a few tractors went to go to Turnhout.  [They said] “Yeah okay, okay, it’s good.” And they keep going a little bit but we had not much response until Sunday late afternoon.

So, I went go for milking and started the tractor, we went to Turnhout. And we standing there with two people. And we had spoken at 8:00 we come together and then we’re going to see where are we going to drive, okay? And we standing with three people there, and at least that side and that side …

IP: …they were coming everywhere it was it was beautiful to see …

BD: … it was amazing. And in a few minutes, about 10 to 15 minutes, they’re standing 350 tractors.

So, we went to the big market in Turnhout and we head to the mayor. We said: “We come with 60 tractors and we got a little fire.  And he said: “Okay it’s good, it’s good.”

So, we went there. We came and he was not happy to see that there was a little bit more tractors.


BD: And he asked me …

IP: … overwhelmed …

BD: He asked if we want to talk with him what need to change.

I said: “No we have already talked so much with you but nobody listen. So, now it’s time for hard action.” And I said: “You have two times voted; you voted for a national park and you voted for a nitrogen decrease. So, that’s, that’s … we don’t need to talk anymore.  They are two things farmers don’t want it, you don’t talk with farmers – nothing.”

So, I did a little speech but it was a little bit harder than I thought. And they put the fire on and it was so big the people screaming very loud. And it was a start, there were a little bit protests but not big.  It was a start to what happened now in Flanders; all ports of entry is standing closed.

The port of Zeebrugge is closed. Tonight, we start blocking the borders. So it’s going very hard.

IP: It’ a wakeup call for a lot of farmers. There was a lot of rumour in the WhatsApp groups and stuff.  They didn’t seem to get the start of it and it really was the last push they needed [on] Sunday. And it was really beautiful when you we drive with the tractors down to the city, all people came outside and they were cheering for us and it’s really nice to see that the citizens are really behind us.

Interviewer: So you managed to mobilise farmers from outside your organisation and also a lot of local people?

BD: Yes, yes.  It was we started Sunday at 12 o’clock, it was in Limburg was a little manifestation was very good. Every manifestation is a good manifestation and we support everything. but you see at Monday, I thought it was, you get wild manifestations. So, they cannot organise the people. The police don’t know where they going to stand. They start there but they end there and they goes to there – so became that the part of Antwerp is closed now. So, there’s no truck can be in Antwerp, no truck can be in Bruges. So it’s marvellous, it’s beautiful, it’s great.

IP: Yeah, it’s really nice to see that farmers are communicating with each other and they are making plans together and they can build actions together. And the police just can’t control it. They can’t know who is organising it, where are they going to go and they don’t just don’t have control over it anymore.

BD: Yesterday I get 130 calls.  It was from journalists, it was from police, just ask “where they stand, where they going to do, what they going to do”? I said: “I don’t know, I only know what I’m organising but for the rest I don’t know anything.”

Interviewer: What’s your secret? What advice would you give to other farmers’ organisations in other countries?

BD: Yeah, it was started in France but on the media you don’t see it.  You must look at YouTube because the media won’t cover it.  They might not see it here, France started too with [inaudible] and I think it was with the fire, the big fire we had in Turnhout that we say and with hanging up political parties that they stand up, they say “okay now it’s time.” We felt it, at from Wednesday last week till Friday, it get a little, they get nervous I said “now it’s the time you must pick the momentum” and we picked the momentum.

And now they must go further.  The supermarkets get empty, yeah?

IP: Yeah. And I think it’s also a very important message to bring that they don’t have to give up, keep on going, keep saying “this isn’t right, this isn’t fair.” Don’t let them put you with your back against the wall but keep on going until they listen.

BD: And now we are trying to organise that there are, that some people go home – not all in Antwerp – and they can go for sleep, eat and do their farm but then come back so we can take the control for a few days, not one day but go on.

Interviewer: What is your message to the population?

IP: I think farmers deserve a lot of respect. They are people who work seven days in a week and even at night.  They care for their animals.   And we are in Europe, one of the most productive agriculture. Please don’t harm us.  Please don’t chase us away because you won’t have food that is that quality that we have now, that has a lot of controls on it.  You’re going to eat food that you don’t know where it’s coming from, you don’t know what kind of pesticides they use. It’s not healthy anymore.

BD: I have one short message: no farm and no food.

Interviewer: Thank you very much and good luck. Best of luck.

DB: Thank you

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