Hundreds of tractors join milk protest in Brussels
The protesters from Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland left burning tyres on one of the main roads leading to Brussels' European quarter.Brussels -- Hundreds of farmers drove tractors into central Brussels Thursday for a protest against falling milk prices just as EU leaders were set to start a two-day summit.
The protesters from Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland left burning tyres on one of the main roads leading to Brussels' European quarter.
Hundreds of police erected barriers to stop the farmers from approaching the building where the 27 European heads of state and government were to meet later Thursday.
The protest blocked traffic all along the long road.
Farmers accuse retailers of exploitation, complaining that the price they are paid for milk by wholesalers has fallen dramatically, while the cost to consumers in supermarkets has remained stable.
They have been holding protests for months in search of some price support through financial aid or by limiting supplies.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, facing a particularly intense protest at home, has agreed to tax breaks to help farms struggling due to falling food prices.
Merkel can ill afford to lose farmers' support before elections in September.
She has made it clear that she will discuss the problem with her fellow leaders at the European summit.
The farmers brandished placards and banners bearing such slogans as: "Fair prices!" and "We don't want to die," as car horns and fireworks increased the volume.
The European Commission has so far announced very targeted aid to the sector but has refused to go back on its decision to scrap milk quotas.
Last November, the 27 EU agriculture ministers agreed to lift milk production quotas by one percent per year before scrapping them altogether in 2014-2015.
Quotas were introduced in 1984 to support prices and tackle the then notorious butter mountains and milk lakes in Europe created by overproduction.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel was set to meet a delegation from the milk producers.