France listens to farmers’ plea

Henry

The French government made a number of concessions to farmers’ unions after farmers blocked major roads to Paris on Friday in protest against poor pay, high taxes and strict regulations.

These concessions include that the government will pay attention to rising diesel prices, which is the result of certain tax concessions that are being phased out. An emergency fund will also be set up to assist cattle farmers when their animals fall ill.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced these measures on Friday on a cattle farm in the south-west of France.

“We decided to put agriculture above anything else,” he said. “You wanted to send a message and I heard it. Loud and clear.”

However, the announcement sparked mixed feelings among protesting organisations, with some of the farmers feeling that roads should be reopened by Saturday afternoon. However, Arnaud Rousseau, head of the trade union FNSEA, believes that these steps are not sufficient to tackle farmers’ problems.

The closure of roads by protesters on Friday was preceded by days of disruption of main roads, tractor convoys through major cities and demonstrations in front of government buildings. On Friday morning, the A1 highway in the north of Paris was blocked by tractors and hay bales, causing major traffic jams.

According to the FNSEA, around 55,000 people took part in the protests and blocking of roads on Friday.

In the south of the city, about 400 kilometers of road between Lyon and the Spanish border were closed by protesters. “We don’t want to hear more words, we want to see actions,” one of the protesters said on Friday before Attal’s announcement was made.

Farmers are also angry about what they see as a reduction in the purchase price of fresh produce by supermarkets and industrial buyers. Marc Fesneau, the French Minister of Agriculture, consequently warned food producers and supermarkets early on Friday that they could be fined if they did not comply with laws regarding farmers’ compensation.

Some farmers believe that the government should introduce a minimum price for agricultural products.

On Friday, Attal also said the government would try to make administrative tasks easier for farmers and pay subsidies to encourage organic farming methods.

However, some of FNSEA’s 140 demands will involve changing the law or require difficult negotiations with the European Union (EU), such as the controversial free trade agreements between the EU and food exporters. Farmers are particularly unhappy that their competitors, who are not bound by the EU’s regulations, do not have to comply with the same strict standards.