Tractors are once again thundering through the streets in the run-up to the EU elections. Agriculture is a major problem and the extreme right is taking advantage

BEERSEL, Belgium — The far-right party Vlaams Belang had set up the demonstration in the beautiful rolling fields south of Brussels, further away the four-day elections for the European Union starting Thursday. The aim was clear: to denounce the way farmers would lose fertile land to what they see as overbearing environmentalists who are trying to turn it into a chain of forests, destroying a traditional way of life.

It was also a show how Agriculture has been instrumentalized by the populist and hard-right groups across the 27-nation bloc.

In a final push On Tuesday, militant agricultural groups from more than half a dozen countries converged on Brussels in a show of force they hoped would sweep the progressive Green Deal climate pact off the table and give farmers the leeway they have long had to decide how to the country. There too, the impact of the extreme right was clear: representatives of several EU countries attended the protest, which attracted hundreds of tractors.

At the small protest south of the capital last week, farmer Eduard Van Overstraeten growled. “As a farmer you just become a number,” he says. Of the 60 hectares (148 acres) he farmed for wheat, corn and potatoes, he said he was forced to sell a quarter of it – including his farm – to help create a series of separate forests around Brussels to create one contiguous nature reserve to become. zone to improve biodiversity and combat pollution.

Similar stories of discontent, focusing on limiting the use of fertilizers and pesticides to force parts of agricultural land to preserve pristine natural areas for the benefit of birds and bees – and ultimately the population as a whole – have fueled this influential electoral base of conservative Christian Democrats pushed further. to the edges of the right.

“No one defends us, so others must come to power,” said Van Overstraeten.

And just as a wealthy think tank, funded by self-proclaimed illiberal Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, helped fuel Tuesday's demonstrations and previous demonstrations in Brussels, it is the emerging Flemish Interest Party that is doing so at the local level.

“They are looking for another party that presents a credible story. And that is us,” says Klaas Slootmans, parliamentarian for Vlaams Belang. “It's common sense that you need to protect farmers and food supplies.”

It is the heart of the political issue that pits farmers against environmentalists, greens and much of the left against populist and far-right forces: do you protect farmers and the food supply by giving farmers a free hand to work as they see fit? Or by enclosing them and imposing strict regulations to reduce pollution and promote a life closer to nature that would curb the excesses of climate change?

However, in the past year, scientific arguments have taken a back seat to the rumble of the street.

Crucially, the center parties, especially the Christian Democrats, have begun to waver and waver to the right after months of relentless demonstrations across the bloc, with hundreds of tractors often destroying vital economic lifelines or many of Europe's major cities such as Paris and Madrid , to block.

As climate change, with droughts, heat waves, floods and fires, began to wreak increasing havoc, the EU tried to introduce strict laws as part of its policies. Green Deal to make the block climate neutral by 2050. Agriculture is responsible for more than 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, from sources such as nitrous oxide in fertilisers, carbon dioxide from vehicles and methane from livestock.

For years the EU became the world's trendsetter, winning praise on the international stage, but losing its agricultural base, which was increasingly lost in countless rules that sometimes indicated when to sow and harvest, and even had satellite surveillance to monitor to check this. . It was fodder for the far right, which raged in the European Parliament and in countless demonstrations about bureaucratic interference.

And at EU and national level, ambitious plans have already been curtailed. In the Netherlands, the new coalition plans are full of measures that largely meet the demands of farmers and counter those of environmentalists. The coalition is dominated by Geert Wilders' far-right party.

The groundswell of resistance has driven many to a level of militant agriculture not seen in decades. The Dutch Peasant Defense Force, which was behind Tuesday's match, often refers to its members as “fighters,” and some demonstrations have led to violence.

Tuesday's march was said to be the culmination of months of protests, with reports of as many as 100,000 demonstrators. It was a fraction of that.

Jos Ubels, the number 2 of the FDF, blamed nature's intervention. Much of western Europe is experiencing its wettest spring in living memory and even in early June the country is still unspoiled and ravaged by pests, he said. “The weather has made it impossible.”

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