The French government, led by Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, has announced a series of substantial concessions aimed at addressing the grievances of protesting farmers, who have been staging widespread demonstrations for over a week.
The protests were initially sparked by an increase in agricultural fuel duties, with farmers expressing concerns about squeezed income, high taxes, and burdensome regulations.
In a press conference held in Paris on Thursday, Prime Minister Attal outlined the government’s commitment to “better recognize the farming profession” and address key concerns. The measures include an annual allocation of 150 million euros ($162 million) for livestock farmers and a ban on food imports treated with thiacloprid, a neonicotinoid pesticide already prohibited in France.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced that major supermarkets would undergo audits to ensure compliance with a law intended to guarantee fair prices for farmers’ produce. Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau declared a “pause” in France’s national plan for reducing pesticide use, known as the “Ecophyto” plan, allowing for a comprehensive reevaluation.
This latest offer follows a previous round of concessions, including the withdrawal of the contested fuel tax hike. However, ongoing protests at over 150 locations across France suggest that the measures may not have fully assuaged farmers’ concerns.
The farming union FNSEA, a major player in the protests, is expected to respond to the government’s announcements later on Thursday. Meanwhile, tensions continue to mount, with some farmers demanding thorough inspections of truck cargoes to verify the origin of produce.
The situation in France coincides with a summit in Brussels where European leaders are grappling with the broader implications of the farmers’ protests. French President Emmanuel Macron is set to hold discussions with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on “the future of European agriculture.” The European Union has recently granted a temporary exemption from rules requiring certain farmland to be left fallow.
While the French government sees these developments as a victory for its lobbying efforts, the farmers, in their continued demonstrations, are demanding a complete withdrawal from the long-negotiated free-trade deal with the South American bloc Mercosur. Paris remains firm in rejecting the agreement in its current form, but other EU nations are pressing forward.
Protests are not confined to France, as demonstrated by Portuguese farmers blocking roads, including two border crossings to Spain. Despite Lisbon’s announcement of 500 million euros ($540 million) in aid to address challenges, some Portuguese farmers remain discontented. Nuno Mayer, a spokesperson for the Portuguese movement, affirmed that their actions would be peaceful but resolute, emphasizing a commitment to distinct strategies from the French counterparts.
As the European agricultural landscape faces unprecedented challenges, the coming days are crucial for both farmers and policymakers seeking a resolution to the ongoing unrest.