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Farmers hurl eggs, stones in Brussels as EU summit begins

Farmers threw eggs and stones at the European Parliament, starting fires near the building and setting off fireworks amid protests to press a summit of European Union leaders to do more to help them with taxes and rising costs.

Protesters tried to tear down the barriers erected in front of parliament – a few blocks from where the summit was taking place – but police pushed them back with water hoses.

Police also fired teargas.

A local official said a statue on the square where farmers were gathered near the parliament with their tractors was damaged.

Major thoroughfares in Brussels, the heart of the European Union, were blocked by around 1,300 tractors, according to a police estimate. Farmers from Italy, Spain and other European countries also took part in the protests.

Security personnel in riot gear stood guard behind barriers where the leaders were meeting at European Council headquarters.

Farmers say they are not being paid enough, are choked by taxes and green rules and face unfair competition from abroad.

The protests across Europe come ahead of European Parliament elections in June in which the far right, for whom farmers represent a growing constituency, is seen making gains.

“You know what’s happening: European elections are coming and politicians are super nervous and also the European Commission. And I think that this is the best moment that together all the European farmers go to the street,” said Jose Maria Castilla, a farmer representing the Spanish farmers’ union Asaja.

One tractor displayed a banner saying “If you love the earth, support those who manage it” as farmers from Belgium and other European countries try to make themselves heard by EU leaders meeting later.

Another banner read: “No farmers, no food.”

“If you see with how many people we are here today, and if you see it’s all over Europe, so you must have hope. We must have hope that these people see that farming is necessary. It’s the food, you know,” said Kevin Bertens, a farmer from just outside Brussels.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said: “To the farmers that are outside. We see you and we hear you.”

Farmers have already secured several measures, including the bloc’s executive Commission proposals to limit farm imports from Ukraine and loosen some environmental regulations on fallow lands.

In France, where farmers have been protesting for weeks, the government has dropped plans to gradually reduce subsidies on agricultural diesel and promised more aid.

But farmers say that is not enough, and protests have spread to countries including Spain and Portugal.

While the farmers’ crisis is not officially on the agenda of the EU summit, it is bound to be discussed, at least on the margins.

A protestor throws eggs towards police

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the EU-Mercosur trade agreement cannot be ratified in its current form.

He said: “We can’t have a situation whereby we impose environmental regulations on farmers and then allow imports from countries that don’t have those same regulations.

“I’d be among one of quite a number of heads of government here who understand the pressures that farmers are under, whether its increased energy costs, fertiliser costs, and new environmental regulations.

“It’s kind layer on layer for farmers, and certainly I think the priority for us should be implementing existing rules and regulations and not imposing new additional ones on farmers over the next couple of years.

“I would also echo [French] President Macron’s comments in relation to Mercosur, that this trade agreement can’t be ratified in its current form.

“What we need are legally binding and legally enforceable changes around the environment[al aspect].”

President Macron said on Tuesday that the EU-Mercosur trade deal, which has been concluded but not ratified, could not be signed.

As he arrived at the summit, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said farmers’ grievances should be discussed.

“They offer products of high quality, we also need to make sure that they can get the right price for the high quality products that they provide,” he said.

Additional reporting Tony Connelly

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