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France’s farmer lobby turns up heat on government, says protests to continue

In World
January 23, 2024

PARIS -French farmers will continue to protest pending government action, union representatives told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and Farming Minister Marc Fesneau to address the reasons for the demonstrations.

“We told him (Attal) we wouldn’t settle for words,” Arnaud Rousseau, head of FNSEA, France’s largest farm union, told reporters after the meeting. “We told (him) that, to build confidence, he needed to go into the field. He committed to meeting farmers in the field in the coming days”

Fesneau said the first proclamations for farmers would be presented this week, French news broadcast television BFM TV reported.

Farmers in France are protesting over price pressures, taxes, and green regulation – grievances shared by farmers across Europe.

Farmers blocked roads in parts of France last week in action similar to widespread protests by farmers in Germany.

They cite a government tax on tractor fuel, cheap imports, water storage issues, price pressures from retailers and government red tape among their grievances.

President Emmanuel Macron is wary of farmers’ growing support for the far right ahead of the European Parliament elections in June. The government has put a draft farming law on hold, saying it wanted to hear from farming representatives first to include additional measures to support the sector.

FARMERS SAY LIVELIHOODS UNDER THREAT

Farming policy has always been a sensitive issue in France, the European Union’s biggest agricultural producer, with thousands of independent producers of wine, meat and dairy. Farmers have a track record of disruptive protests.

Jordan Bardella, president of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National, travelled to the western Gironde region to voice support for farmers and France’s agricultural heritage.

“Farmers are part of our identity and I refuse to let them die,” Bardella told reporters on Saturday.

Many farmers say their livelihoods are threatened as food retailers step up pressure to bring down prices after a run of high inflation.

Fearing a spillover from farmer protests in Germany, Poland, and Romania, the government withdrew a draft farming law planned for debate this week and invited farming representatives for talks.

Arnaud Gaillot, head of the Young Farmers(Jeunes Agriculteurs), and Rousseau said they would seek assurances from Attal and Fesneau that a special law aimed at keeping farming revenues stable would be better enforced.

Gaillot also called for a regulatory pause, saying bureaucracy was eating up too much of farmers’ time and that regulations aimed at cutting carbon emissions were “too much.”

“I think we could be on the eve of a big farmers’ movement if there are no answers. Our European neighbours, with whom we are in touch, are calling us,” he added.

Fesneau told newspaper Midi Libre on Monday that the draft law would remain tabled during the first half of this year, after amendments including measures to cut red tape.

The minister visited an irrigation storage project in the western Vendee department on Monday and said the government had listened to farmers’ calls to ease restrictions on water use, a controversial issue as water becomes scarce in summer.

“This is also to show that we are working on things, even though this may seem like it’s taking a long time. … There certainly is a need to speed up processes,” he told reporters. REUTERS

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