A protest of farmers surrounded Paris with barricades on Monday, using hundreds of heavy tractors and piles of hay bales to block roads leading to France’s capital to pressure the government over the future of its industry, which has been shaken by the fallout from the Ukraine war.
The blockade of major roads around Paris (host of the Summer Olympics in six months) and protests elsewhere in France promised another difficult week for the new Prime Minister. Gabriel Attalless than a month after taking office.
Protesters said Attal’s attempts last week to adopt pro-agriculture measures fell short of their demands that food production should be more lucrative, easier and fairer.
Farmers responded Monday by deploying convoys of tractors, trailers and even noisy combines in what they described as a “siege” of Paris to obtain more concessions. Some protesters arrived with stocks of food and water and tents to remain at the barricades if the government does not give ground.
“We have come to defend French agriculture,” said Christophe Rossignol, a 52-year-old farmer of organic orchards and other crops. The tractors at the barricade east of Paris were parked so that they formed what looked like an ear of wheat when viewed from the air.
“We went from crisis to crisis,” Rossignol said. Some vehicles carried signs that said “There is no food without farmers” and “The end of us would mean famine for you.”
The barricades highlighted the differences in economic and social opportunities between the city and the countryside in France. Protesters said they felt ignored by government ministers whom they accused of rarely venturing onto farms and getting their shoes dirty.
The government announced a deployment of 15,000 police officers, mainly in the Paris region, to stop any attempts by protesters to enter the capital. There were also officers and armored vehicles stationed at Paris’ fresh food supply center, the Rungis market.
Traffic authorities in the Paris region reported blockages on the A1 motorway just north of the city’s main international airport, on the A4 near the Disneyland theme park east of the capital, and on other busy motorways. .
“Our goal is not to bother or ruin the lives of the French,” he told radio. RTL Arnaud Rousseau, president of the influential agricultural union FNSEA. “Our goal is to pressure the government to quickly find solutions to the crisis.”
Farmers in neighboring Belgium also set up barricades to stop traffic reaching some main roads, including the capital Brussels. Most of the protests take place in the French-speaking part of the country.
Clement Glorieux, a farmer from Tournai in western Belgium, said farmers are “fed up. At some point, rules and limitations are imposed on us, whether administrative or financial. “This has been detrimental for a while now, so we are starting to ask questions about our future.”
Glorieux and the farmers on the barricades around Paris said that They intend to continue protesting at least until Thursdaywhen the leaders of the 27 countries of the European Union will meet in Brussels for a summit focused on financial support for Ukraine.
“We have everything we need to eat, barbecues and a wall of hay to protect us from the wind. We have the equipment and we are settling in well!” said the farmer and protester from the Paris region Jean-Baptiste Benoit.
The movement in France is another manifestation of a global food crisis worsened by Russia’s nearly two-year large-scale war in Ukraine, a major food producer.
French farmers say higher prices for fertilizers, energy and other inputs to grow crops and feed livestock have dented their incomes.
Protesters also argue that France’s heavily subsidized agricultural sector is overly regulated and harmed by food imports from countries where agricultural producers face lower costs and fewer restrictions. Rousseau used Ukrainian sugar producers as an example, saying their growing exports to Europe since Russia invaded the country in February 2022 are “unsustainable” for their European counterparts.
Taxi drivers with other complaints also staged protests on Monday to reduce speeds, adding to traffic chaos in the Paris area and other parts of the country. Authorities recommended that road users switch to public transportation if possible.
(With information from AP)