Fuming French farmers pile pressure on Paris

Fuming French farmers pile pressure on Paris

Farmers have been blocking motorways across France
Farmers have been blocking motorways across France. Photo: Frederick FLORIN / AFP/File
Source: AFP

France's government scrambled on Thursday to come up with answers to farmers blocking motorways and demonstrating at public buildings across the country, after a fuel tax rise detonated long-standing resentments.

It is a first crisis for recently-installed Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who summoned his economy, environment and agriculture chiefs for a meeting to decide on aid measures and fend off a possible blockade of the capital.

With Paris under pressure to defuse tensions just months ahead of key European Parliament polls, government sources told AFP that initial responses to rural unions' demands could be announced Thursday or Friday.

Farmers were out in force on many motorways, city ring roads and traffic roundabouts nationwide following the death Tuesday of a farmer and her daughter at a roadblock.

"We're caught in a pincer effect between rising costs and falling prices for our produce," said Dominique Kretz, a wheat, corn and beetroot farmer among several hundred blocking the M35 motorway near eastern city Strasbourg.

Read also

EU ports join up to fight drug smuggling

Some routes were blocked around southern city Avignon and towards Mediterranean port Marseille, according to traffic information website Bison Fute.

And in western city Bordeaux, around 15 tractors launched a go-slow in both directions around the ring road.

'Big risk'

Farmers say they are being squeezed from multiple directions, with buyers from supermarkets and the food industry crushing their margins and complex environmental rules on issues like leaving land fallow and pesticide use.

The last straw for many was the government's move to eliminate a tax break on diesel fuel for their farm equipment -- despite an attempt to soften the blow by phasing it out between now and 2030.

A new rebate on the diesel tax could be one of the government's measures, while some lawmakers have even called for minimum prices for produce.

Read also

Europe's bike industry hits bumps as cycling craze cools

Tractor rallies and go-slow protests have become a common sight
Tractor rallies and go-slow protests have become a common sight. Photo: Damien MEYER / AFP/File
Source: AFP

For the government, "it would be a big risk to wait until Friday to announce something," warned Karine Duc, co-president of the Coordination Rurale union in the western Lot-et-Garonne department.

Top farmers' union FNSEA called late Wednesday for "immediate answers on pay", including urgent assistance for "sectors worst hit by the crisis" -- and in the long term, launching "a project to reduce regulations".

"We are talking about several hundred million euros," FNSEA chief Arnaud Rousseau told AFP.

The protests have made for a rare alliance between rival farmers' unions, with left-wing Confederation Paysanne joining the heavyweight FNSEA and Coordination Rurale.

'No plans' to blockade Paris

President Emmanuel Macron's government is at pains to avoid a repeat of the 2018-19 "yellow vests" protests -- also triggered by a rise in diesel prices -- that saw massive mobilisation and clashes with police.

Ministers have also eyed nervously previous mass turnouts on similar issues by farmers in Germany, Poland and the Netherlands.

Read also

Fears over economy grow as German rail begins longest strike

In Brittany's capital Rennes, fishermen could join the farmers at a demonstration outside the region's prefecture in a sign of bubbling frustration in other sectors boiling over.

Much of fishing has been banned for a month along much of France's Atlantic coast in a measure to protect dolphins and porpoises, at an estimated cost of tens of millions of euros to the 450 ships affected.

In a sign the government hopes to keep tensions low, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Wednesday ordered local authorities to exercise "great restraint" and deploy police only as a "last resort".

Union representatives in Bordeaux said Thursday their protest would be "more respectful" than Wednesday's in nearby Agen, in which tyres and straw were burned outside the prefecture.

Speaking at a blockade on the A16 motorway, FNSEA head Rousseau said "at this stage" there were no plans to blockade Paris.

But Regis Desmureaux, his lieutenant for the Oise department north of the capital, told broadcaster BFMTV that "we're moving forward about 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) a day and we'll definitely be on Paris' doorstep on Friday or Saturday".

Read also

Argentines down tools in first major challenge to budget-slashing Milei

Farmers driving tractors ran another go-slow operation early Thursday on the N12, a major road running west of the capital.

PAY ATTENTION: Сheck out news that is picked exactly for YOU - click on “Recommended for you” and enjoy!

Source: AFP

Authors:
AFP avatar

AFP AFP text, photo, graphic, audio or video material shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium. AFP news material may not be stored in whole or in part in a computer or otherwise except for personal and non-commercial use. AFP will not be held liable for any delays, inaccuracies, errors or omissions in any AFP news material or in transmission or delivery of all or any part thereof or for any damages whatsoever. As a newswire service, AFP does not obtain releases from subjects, individuals, groups or entities contained in its photographs, videos, graphics or quoted in its texts. Further, no clearance is obtained from the owners of any trademarks or copyrighted materials whose marks and materials are included in AFP material. Therefore you will be solely responsible for obtaining any and all necessary releases from whatever individuals and/or entities necessary for any uses of AFP material.

Online view pixel