Belgian farmers blockade EU Commission with burning bales

Belgian farmers have surrounded the European Commission building in Brussels, burning bales of hay as a fake blue cow with the EU flag looks on.

They are protesting against a controversial EU-US trade deal – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – which critics say will damage EU agriculture.

However, the protesters seem to be unaware that the Commission and MEPs wrapped up for Christmas yesterday and so the buildings are mainly empty.

Reports suggest that a convoy of tractors left the southern part of Belgium last night, arriving in Brussels to take up position around the Commission building.

Protestors burnt bales of hay and straw in the streets outside the Commission, creating dramatic scenes.

Riot police stood by with shields and barbed wire to protect the EU Commission building.

The farmers are joined by civil society groups and unions from other EU countries, including France, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Spain and the UK.

TTIP is still being negotiated, but if it went ahead it would be the biggest bilateral trade deal ever passed. It covers a large number of sectors, but agriculture has been a key bone of contention within negotiations and the surrounding debate.

Critics argue that European farmers would suffer falling prices, as cheap imports of US products flooded the market. The beef and poultry sectors would be particularly exposed.

It has also been argued that the world-renowned quality of European food could suffer as the deal sets out to ‘harmonise’ European and US standards.

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