Angry farmers often stage tractor protests in Spain, driving along at a snail's pace snarling traffic

Madrid (AFP) - Farmers blocked roads across Spain for the third day running Thursday in protest over heavy regulation and cheaper imports, with the main farmers’ unions joining the demonstrations for the first time.

Following a day in which protesters converged on Barcelona, they were out again on Thursday with several columns of slow-moving tractors snarling traffic on roads in the eastern Valencia region, Asturias in the north and the central region of Castilla la Mancha.

Although the protests earlier this week were rallied by activists on WhatsApp, some of Thursday’s actions were organised by Spain’s three main farming unions Asaja, Coag and UPA who pointed to the difficult and precarious nature of agricultural work.

“If the tractors are protesting, it’s because the rural world feels suffocated,” Asaja posted on X, in a message echoed by UPA’s deputy Marcos Alarcon.

Farmers, he said, were hoping that this “huge demonstration will give us significant clout that we can use at the negotiating table”.

Union officials said the main demonstrations were taking place in central areas such as Salamanca, Ciudad Real and Avila.

In Barcelona, almost 1,000 tractors rallied in the city centre Wednesday with dozens of farmers spending the night there although most left early on Thursday.

Barcelona is the capital of the drought-hit northeastern region of Catalonia.

Some demonstrations deteriorated into scuffles when police moved in to remove roadblocks, prompting several arrests, with the interior ministry raising to 19 the total number detained since the start of the protests.

In Ciudad Real, local media said hundreds of protesters dumped 25,000 litres of French wine into the street in front of the local water authority in protest at the central government’s policies on water.

- Anger across Europe -

Angry farmers have been protesting across Europe over rising costs, high fuel prices, bureaucracy and the environmental requirements in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and its forthcoming “Green Deal”.

“People are definitely struggling,” Transport Minister Oscar Puente told Antena 3 television, but if “they clog up roads across the whole country, the security forces have to act”.

ANGED, the association representing Spanish supermarkets, demanded the authorities “take the necessary steps to ensure the free movement of people and goods” warning that the protests could end up having a wider economic impact.

The Fenadismer transport sector federation had on Wednesday said 80,000 lorries were affected by the blockades at an estimated cost of 120 million euros ($129 million).

On meeting reporters Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Luis Planas said the situation was “complex” and insisted the government was ready for “dialogue” with the protesters.

In response to the protests, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has vowed to simplify the rules for the implementing the CAP, and to improve legislation so farmers don’t have to sell their products at a loss.