The self-declared “freedom convoy” that’s planning to descend on Brussels next week to protest COVID-19 measures won’t get much love from Belgium’s truckers.
A coordinated pan-European convoy of anti-vaccine protesters is planning to arrive in the Belgian capital on February 14.
The protest is taking a page from Canadian truck convoys complaining about vaccine and mask mandates. The movement initially protested a vaccine requirement for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border, but is now much broader; it’s blockaded Ottawa for two weeks and prompted the province of Ontario to declare a state of emergency.
Brussels police expect protesters from other EU countries to start arriving Sunday afternoon, according to Bruzz. In France, convoys were headed to Paris on Friday, despite a police ban on entering the capital.
Frank Moreels, head of Belgium’s transport union BTB, worries Europe’s “copycat” movement, which he said counts far-right groups, conspiracy theorists and scared citizens among its organizers, is surfing on an “angry truckers” wave while misrepresenting the genuine problems of truck drivers.
“It’s an attempt from a specific corner to hijack the trucker community,” he warned.
When the COVID pandemic first hit the Continent, truckers kept working to ensure a steady flow of goods — although haphazard and often sudden restrictions sometimes left drivers stranded in border traffic jams. Moreels estimated that more than 90 percent of truckers are vaccinated, and he said he isn’t aware of members of his union planning to join the protests.
“They absolutely don’t appreciate the fact that a small group is besmirching the profession with false arguments. Especially since the real problems aren’t being discussed,” he said.
Europe, like other parts of the world, is grappling with a major shortage of drivers and trucker unions warn worsening working conditions, exacerbated by a lack of secure and well-equipped parking areas, poor pay, high pressure and a lack of respect for the profession are draining the workforce. Unions have pinned hopes for improvement on new EU trucker rules that start applying this month.
Philippe Degraef, president of transport operators group Febetra, also distanced himself from the protests, saying: “Blockages are never, ever, the adequate way to solve perceived problems.”
On Thursday, Belgian authorities banned the convoy from protesting in Brussels. Police will carry out checks at the border and protesters who reach Brussels will be diverted to a parking lot behind the Atomium — the iconic model of an atom that’s one of the city’s hallmarks.
“We’re doing everything we can to avoid Brussels from getting blocked,” Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden said.