French Farmers Protests: Livelihood Hardships, Climate Change, and Government Challenges

2024-01-23 21:16:44

French farmers complain about livelihood hardships, climate change and the EU’s obsession with regulation. The Attal government is challenged. She fears a new yellow vest movement – ​​and the extreme right.

France’s farmers take to the streets. They denounce that they can no longer live on what they produce.

Guillaume Horcajuelo / EPA

Gabriel Attal has only been Prime Minister in France for two weeks and the first real crisis is already brewing. Angry farmers have blocked several highways and highways across the country. What began at the end of last week with dozens of tractors on the A 20, A 62 and A 64 motorways in the Toulouse area is expanding every day.

Farmers are currently blocking various highways

Around 500 tractors are now said to have arrived. Walls made of straw bales also block access roads in Alsace and the greater Lyon and Bordeaux areas. Near Perpignan, near the border with Spain, farmers occupied a toll booth on the highway. Access to a nuclear power plant in Golfech between Toulouse and Bordeaux was also blocked.

In the city of Carcassonne, farmers’ actions were less peaceful over the weekend. An explosive attack was carried out on a regional environmental administration building. Windows were broken and offices on the ground floor were vandalized. The attack is attributed to a wine-growing association whose lettering was sprayed on an adjacent wall.

So far, the farmers’ protests in France have left two people dead and one seriously injured. A farmer died at a blockade post on the national road from Toulouse towards Spain, said the president of the farmers’ association FNSEA, Arnaud Rousseau, on Tuesday afternoon; Her husband and a daughter were critically injured, and the 12-year-old girl died on Tuesday evening. The family had apparently been behind a wall made of straw when a driver tried to break through the roadblock and crashed into the bales of straw.

Risk of infection from neighboring countries

Originally, farmers in France’s southwest went to the barricades because the cattle disease EHD, which was imported from Spain, was spreading in the region. They demanded government help in fighting the disease and compensation for losses. The news and images of the farmers’ protests in Germany and other European countries may have further mobilized them. But the anger of around 400,000 farmers in the EU’s largest agricultural country has been building up for months, if not years – and has a variety of causes.

The farmers are waiting for responsive measures from the government. As long as this does not happen, farmers want to block important roads in France.

Guillaume Horcajuelo / EPA

Seeds, feed, agricultural diesel, gas: everything is becoming more expensive, farmers complain, but only a fraction of the true production costs are offset by rising prices. The consequences are falling incomes, debts and existential hardship.

More and more regulations from Paris and especially from Brussels are making life even more difficult for farmers. There are countless regulations to be observed in order to protect the environment and consumers, and at the same time the EU is concluding one free trade agreement after another with countries such as New Zealand, Australia and soon with the Mercosur states, which distort competition. The complaint is that Paris is watching idly.

In addition to price and competitive pressure and excessive bureaucracy, there are the consequences of climate change. Drought and lack of water pose significant challenges, particularly for farmers in the south of the country.

They are initially demanding that Prime Minister Attal lower taxes on water purchases and maintain subsidies for agricultural diesel. In addition, new requirements from Brussels should not be adopted immediately or only in a weaker manner.

The protest movement should under no circumstances grow

Until the government announces “concrete measures,” farmers want to maintain and expand their blockades. Union representatives said this on Monday evening after a conversation with Prime Minister Attal. According to the farmer representatives, he listened carefully to their explanations “and took a lot of notes.”

Attal had already visited demonstrating farmers near Lyon at the weekend and expressed understanding for their plight. Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau responded to the pressure from the street and quickly postponed the presentation of a new agricultural law, which was scheduled for Wednesday. He justified this by saying that adjustments had become necessary.

The French government is determined to prevent the demonstrations from spreading any further. The memories of the nationwide yellow vest protests, which also began in rural areas five years ago, are still fresh.

There are also European elections on June 9th. President Macron has chosen this as the moment of truth for himself and his Renaissance party. However, current surveys see the right-wing Rassemblement in the lead nationally. Its top candidate, Jordan Bardella, promptly took advantage of the farmers’ dissatisfaction to shoot against the EU and call on farmers to expand the protests.

The French Interior Minister said on Monday evening that there were no plans to clear the barricades by the law enforcement officers.

Guillaume Horcajuelo / EPA

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