AROUND 2,000 farmers and trade unionists protested in Brussels today against negotiations to set up a transatlantic free trade zone.
Rain-swept streets in the Belgian capital were lined with processions of tractors and other farm vehicles.
The farmers say they fear that any free trade pact would leave them out in the cold and at the mercy of big transnational firms.
Police cordoned off the European Union quarter in the Schuman district of Brussels for the thousands-strong rally.
“Merry Christmas and Happy Austerity,” read a banner that the protesters hoisted outside the new European Council building.
They built fires and set off fireworks close to the EU headquarters, where a summit of EU government leaders had ended only a few hours earlier.
And they made their view of the European leaders very clear as they burned German Chancellor Angela Merkel in effigy.
The protest was organised by the D19-20 Alliance and had been meant to surround the summit, but EU bloc leaders ended their talks earlier than expected on Thursday.
Trade unionists, environmentalists and farmers warn the trade deal will weaken environmental protection standards and further reduce subsidies to an agricultural sector already squeezed by the capitalist financial crisis.
D19-20 denounces austerity as a policy to make workers pay for the crisis and believes that the EU-US trade deal will “squash small producers.”
The talks have been bogged down for a year trying to finalise agreements on everything from financial services to food safety.