Home Society Frustrated farmers slam EU ‘technocrats’ who ‘call the shots’ in Brussels protest
Frustrated farmers slam EU ‘technocrats’ who ‘call the shots’ in Brussels protest

Frustrated farmers slam EU ‘technocrats’ who ‘call the shots’ in Brussels protest

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Frustrated farmers slam EU ‘technocrats’ who ‘call the shots’ in Brussels protest

BRUSSELS — Benoît Laqueue was one of 100 disgruntled French farmers on a bus headed for the European Parliament before sunrise on Wednesday.

The 58-year-old cattle and cereal farmer from the rural Ardennes region, in northeastern France, came with a message for the “technocrats” who “call the shots” in the European Union.

“Leave us alone, let us work in peace!” said Laqueue, who wore a yellow beanie matching the flag he was carrying, which bears the colors of the second-largest French farmers’ union, Rural Coordination.

The Frenchman, who runs a family farm together with his wife and son, says he is burdened with administrative work and over-regulation from the EU, while suffering from competition from foreign countries with lower prices and looser environmental rules — including Ukraine. Thousands of farmers across Europe have taken to the streets in recent weeks, claiming they are being disproportionately affected by the EU’s efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions, and demanding more financial support from their governments.

“They’re not in [the EU], they’re exporting to us tax-free … they’ve taken markets away from us, and they’re not producing with the same rules as we are!” Laqueue said.

In Poland and Romania, farmers and truckers have blockaded roads in protest against Brussels’ decision to suspend import duties on Ukrainian goods following Moscow’s full-scale invasion, which they see as unfair competition.

Demonstrations have also sprung up in Germany against a government proposal to remove tax privileges, while French farmers have been protesting against taxes on tractor fuel and overregulation.

In both countries, protests have been co-opted by far-right movements seeking to use the farmers’ discontent for political gain ahead of the European election in June.

The Brussels protest was no exception, and was joined by Marion Maréchal, the niece of Marine Le Pen and also the lead candidate of the French far-right Reconquête party — founded by anti-immigration firebrand Éric Zemmour.

Speaking to reporters on the muddy Place du Luxembourg, Maréchal denied she was attempting to “surf on the wave” of the farmers’ anger.

“I feel concerned because it’s about our sovereignty,” Maréchal said, calling for a “change of the European Parliament’s political line on both foreign policy and this punitive ecology.”

Asked by POLITICO about their political leanings, most farmers claimed to be apolitical.

EU farm ministers say the Commission’s proposal to drastically reduce the use of toxic pesticides does not consider country-specific contexts | Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

“We’re talking to everyone” no matter the party, said Jean-François Chaperon, a 58-year-old farmer from the southern Hérault area.

Wout van Looveren, a 25-year-old cow farmer from Belgium’s Flanders region, said he felt “politically homeless.”

“There is not one political party that’s coming on for our rights,” he said.

Laqueue, the French farmer from the Ardennes region, said it didn’t matter which politicians are in charge because “they’re not the ones who call the shots, the technocrats are.”

In an exchange with Maréchal, the French farmer later echoed some of the far-right’s talking points on immigration as he referred to an accident in southwestern France in which two people were killed after a car hit a roadblock set up by farmers.

Noting that the car’s three occupants were under deportation orders from France, as reported by French media, Laqueue said: “The three … shouldn’t have been here. And that family shouldn’t have been in mourning.”

“You’re right, that’s factual,” Maréchal answered.

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