In pictures: French farmers block roads, bridges as protests sweep country

French farmers stepped up their protests on Wednesday across the country and in Brussels against low wages and what they consider to be crippling regulation, mounting costs and other problems threatening their livelihoods. 

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Roadblocks and rolling blockades were spreading in many French regions, one day after a farmer and her daughter died due to a traffic collision at a protest barricade.

A dummy lies in a coffin as protesting farmers block a highway near Montélimar, in southeast France, on January 24, 2024.
A dummy lies in a symbollc coffin as protesting farmers block a highway near Montélimar, in southeast France, on January 24, 2024. © Sylvain Thomas, AFP

Echoing complaints from agriculture workers across Europe, many French farmers say their livelihoods are threatened as food retailers are increasing pressure to bring down prices after a period of high inflation.

Farmers drive their tractors on a motorway near Orange, in southern France, in protest against taxation and falling incomes, on January 24, 2024.
Farmers drive their tractors on a motorway near Orange, in southern France, in protest against taxation and falling incomes, on January 24, 2024. © Sylvain Thomas, AFP

Since late last year, they have been turning road signs upside down to protest what they argue are nonsensical agricultural policies.

Road signs have been turned upside down in towns and villages across rural areas in protest at agricultural policies that critics say have gone "topsy-turvy"
Since last December, road signs have been turned upside down in towns and villages across rural areas in protest at agricultural policies that critics say have gone “topsy-turvy”. © Joël Saget, AFP

On Wednesday, some took their protest to Brussels, home to EU headquarters, where French farmers’ union Rural Coordination called for a demonstration against the “ever-increasing constraints of European regulations and ever-lower incomes”.

A cow figure hangs from a vehicle as French farmers stage a protest near the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium on January 24, 2024.
A cow figure in the colours of the EU flag hangs from a tractor during a protest near the European Parliament in Brussels on January 24, 2024. © Yves Herman, Reuters

Fearing a spillover from farmer unrest in Germany, Poland and Romania, President Emmanuel Macron‘s government has already withdrawn a contested draft farming law that would have helped more people become farmers.

Read moreWhy French farmers are up in arms: fuel hikes, green regulation, EU directives

Farming policy has long 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.

Farmers pause their protest for lunch using road signs as tables on the A7 motorway in southeastern France, on January 24, 2024
Protesting farmers pause for lunch using road signs as tables on the A7 motorway in southeastern France, on January 24, 2024 © Sylvain Thomas, AFP

The protests are the first major challenge for newly appointed Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who took office two weeks ago, and his government. Attal met with farmers’ unions representatives on Tuesday. 

Protesting farmers unload a truck of frozen vegetables from Belgium near Bourges, in central France, on January 24, 2024.
Farmers unload a truck carrying frozen vegetables from Belgium as they block a motorway tollgate near Bourges, in central France, on January 24, 2024. © Sylvain Thomas, AFP

Following the meeting, Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau promised to make new proposals to respond to the crisis by the end of the week, including regarding food prices and simplifying regulations. 

A tractor carries a banner reading "400 euros per month, for 70 hours per week, Macron come work on the farm" in southeast France on January 24, 2024.
A tractor carries a banner reading “400 euros per month, for 70 hours per week, Macron come work on the farm” during a motorway protest in southeast France on January 24, 2024. © Sylvain Thomas, AFP

Arnaud Rousseau, head of France’s major farmers union FNSEA, said his organisation would release a list of 40 necessary measures later on Wednesday. Speaking on France 2 television, he said the protest movement was aimed at “getting quick results”. 

Farmers block the Iroise bridge in Brest, in western Brittany, on January 24, 2024.
Farmers block the Iroise bridge in Brest, in western Brittany, on January 24, 2024. © Fred Tanneau, AFP

Farmer discontent over prices is particularly acute in the dairy sector, where producers say the government’s anti-inflation push has undermined legislation designed to safeguard farm gate prices.

Farmers set up a roadblock in Agen, southern France, on January 23, 2024.
Farmers set up a roadblock near a local government office in Agen, southern France, on January 23, 2024. © Christophe Archambault, AFP

On Tuesday, a car carrying three people rammed into a barricade of straw bales in the town of Pamiers, in the Ariège region of southwestern France. A 36-year-old female farmer was killed. Her 12-year-old daughter died later in hospital, the local prosecutor said in a statement.

Farmers stand near fake coffins as they block a road around Bordeaux, in southwestern France, on January 24, 2024.
Farmers stand near fake coffins as they block a ring road around Bordeaux, in southwestern France, on January 24, 2024. © Philippe Lopez, AFP

(FRANCE 24 with AP, Reuters)

 

 

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