A farmer pulls waste to block the RN 19 near in Vesoul, eastern France, on January 25, 2024. 

Sebastien Bozon | Afp | Getty Images

French farmers blocked highways and dumped crates of imported produce on Thursday, demanding urgent action on low farmgate prices, green regulation and free-trade policies as swelling protests moved closer to Paris.

Farmers said the protests, now in their second week after breaking out in the southwest, would continue as long as their demands are not met, posing the first big challenge for new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal.

“All possibilities are still on the table,” Arnaud Gaillot, the head of the Young Farmers (Jeunes Agriculteurs) union told journalists when asked about reports farmers could start to disrupt traffic in Paris as soon as Friday.

French intelligence services have warned the government that regional farming unions have called on their members to converge on the capital, Le Parisien newspaper and BFM TV said.

As Attal convened senior ministers with the aim of announcing concrete proposals on Friday, farmers used bales of hay and tractors to block major highways across France, the European Union’s biggest agricultural producer.

“We always have more rules to follow, we are always asked for more and we earn less and less. We cannot live from our work anymore,” 61-year-old farmer Jean-Jacques Pesquerel from the Calvados Coordination Rurale union said.

Crates of tomatoes, cabbages and cauliflowers that one group of farmers said had been imported were strewn across the A7 highway that links Marseille and Lyon, France’s second and third-biggest cities. On the southwestern edge of Paris, dozens of tractors led a go-slow during the morning rush-hour.

Asked when the protesters would lift roadblocks, Gaillot said to ask Attal: “It is he who holds the key.”

Demands

The powerful FNSEA farming union late on Wednesday handed the government a list of their demands, including better enforcement of a law designed to safeguard farmgate prices.

The union also called for continued diesel tax-breaks for agricultural vehicles, the immediate payment of EU agricultural subsidies, guarantees on insurance payouts related to health and climate, and immediate aid for winemakers and organic farmers.

“Urgent responses are needed,” said FNSEA’s head, Arnaud Rousseau.

French retailers are locked in annual price negotiations with suppliers, which the government wants concluded by the end of the month. Farmers say they will be on the sharp end of efforts to haul prices lower.

Fearing a spillover from farmer unrest in Germany, Poland and Romania, the French government has already postponed a draft farming law meant to help more people become farmers, saying it will beef up the measures and ease some regulations.

A farmer pulls waste to block the RN 19 near in Vesoul, eastern France, on January 25, 2024. 

Sebastien Bozon | Afp | Getty Images

Ahead of European Parliament elections in June, President Emmanuel Macron is wary that farmers are a growing constituency for the far right.

Far right leader Marine Le Pen accused the government of complacency and backing European regulations that hurt farmers, such as rules on mandatory fallow land.

“Emmanuel Macron addresses farmers with a hand on the shoulder and then knifes them in the back in Brussels,” Le Pen told reporters. “The farmers’ worst enemies can be found in this government”, she added.

The hard-left CGT trade union, the country’s second-largest, has called upon its members to join forces with the farmers to allow for a broader social movement against the government.

Farmers in the southwest who on Wednesday sprayed manure over a local prefecture building in Agen, on Thursday directed their animal waste at a nearby Leclerc superstore, France’s biggest supermarket chain, as police looked on.



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