BRUSSELS - Farmers were left dispirited – and sleepy – after anti-EU protests in Brussels proved lacklustre.

Around a thousand protesters with five hundred tractors gathered at the Atomium on Tuesday (June 4) on the outskirts of Brussels to protest against the EU’s agricultural and climate policies.

Farmers held banners with messages such as “Europe Green Deal = No proper meal” and “No Farmers No Food”, while some also waved flags for far-right and populist groups.

Fringe farming groups took centre stage – among them the hardline Dutch group, Farmers Defence Force (FDF), and the French farmers union Coordination Rurale – which has links to Marine Le Pen’s Reassamblement National.

Large farmers’ unions as well as smaller groups chose to boycott the event, according to reporting by DeSmog. Some noted the concessions to green policies made by MEPs in the wake of farmer protests earlier this year – while others were concerned about standing with groups linked to the far-right.

The presence of a number of far-right politicians on the roster as speakers sparked controversy – with one farmer describing their presence as a “catastrophe”.

“They only rant about what’s going on, but don’t change anything,” said Oliver Nottorf, a German farmer who had driven 500km from Hamburg to protest with his wife Verena and their children.

Nottorf said he was frustrated by the current direction of the EU’s agricultural policy. “What they decide here in Brussels is nearly impossible to do practically,” he said, complaining that policy was made by “theorists” instead of “practitioners”.

The far-right, he said, had “tried to jump on the bandwagon” of farmers’ discontent.


A number of prominent far-right MEPs addressed the thin crowds at the event, among them Tom Vandendriessche from the nativist Flemish Interest (VB) party, who in his speech railed against the “EUSSR”.

Sieta van Keimpema, spokesperson for the Farmers Defence Force, called upon attendees to deliver a “political landslide” ahead of the EU elections, after farmer’s protests successfully derailed landmark green legislation in February. The far-right is predicted to surge in this week’s elections.

The rhetoric failed to inspire. Beyond a few hundred people waving flags, the field before the stage was mostly empty, with protesters lying in the grass and taking naps. Several younger farmers, sitting in front and on top of their tractors, stared quietly at the podium. One of them complained about the loud volume of the speeches.

“We are knackered,” said Thijs (16), who left his farm in the region of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, at 1.30am to arrive in time with his tractor. “But the need for change is high. That is why we’re here.”

Farmers Defence Force was one of a number of far-right linked farming groups who met in Brussels to plan the protests in April, pledging to “sweep away” EU decision-makers at the elections.

The “lunch and discussion” was hosted by MCC Brussels, an oil-funded think tank backed by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán. Last month, it hosted a meeting of climate science critics in the Belgian capital to challenge the EU “consensus” on the environment.

Far-right vote?

The far-right presence at the rally was criticised by both green politicians and some attendees, with the European Greens party claiming that the protest was attended by “far-right activists disguised as farmers”.

When asked about the presence of the far-right Forum for Democracy (FvD) at the protest, Thijs said that “Thierry [Baudet, FvD leader] talks whatever shit he thinks is gonna fly with people”.

Thijs said he had more faith in Caroline van der Plas from the Dutch Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) – which was formed amid protests in the country in 2019 and has recently joined the country’s coalition government led by the far-right. “She knows what is important for farmers,” he said.

Gerrit Schoeters, a cattle farmer from the region around Mechelen, Belgium, was also displeased by the prominent far-right imagery, with numerous tractors flying flags with black Flemish lions, which are associated with Flemish Interest.

“What’s going on? What are these people doing here?” he asked, adding that agriculture depended heavily on migrant labour. “We can’t do without all the foreigners.”

But Schoeters, who said he had attended at least six protests in the past year, still railed against green policy. “We are not allowed to do anything. Everything has to be less. Less cows, less manure, and, in the end, less farmers,” he told EUobserver. “The Green Deal has to go.”

Similarly, Gunter Klaasen, a Belgian poultry farmer, vehemently opposed EU green policies, but still refused to align himself with the far-right. “I won’t express support for either left or right but everyone needs to realise farmers are essential,” Klaasen said, adding that farmers had been abandoned by “basically all parties.”

Some attendees did welcome the presence of the far-right, however.

Dutch farmer Joyce Boumans (53) argued that the traditional parties and lobby groups have not done enough for the farmers.

Although she preferred the BBB because they “serve the farmers interest the best” she said she planned to vote for Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) to prevent the Greens and Social Democrats, whose joined list in parliament is led by Green Deal architect Frans Timmermans, from winning the EU elections in the Netherlands.

“Parties like the PVV and Forum for Democracy are good for the Netherlands,” she told the EUobserver. “Farmers’ path lies with right-wing politics.”

After speeches had come to a close, a few dozen tractors headed down to Place de Luxembourg in the centre of Brussels to continue protests, though the majority of attendees stayed at the Atomium.

It remains doubtful that the protest managed to secure the farmers’ vote for far-right parties. “In all honesty, I don’t know,” poultry farmer Klaasen said.