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France: Farmer protests block Paris roads in row over EU law

January 29, 2024

Tractors have blocked major highways in and out of Paris as farmers' protests continue across France. In addition to government concessions, President Emmanuel Macron is pushing for changes at EU level.

Tractors on a French highway
Farmers blocked highways leading into ParisImage: Moritz Thibaud/ABACA/IMAGO

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to push for changes to European Union (EU) legislation to address grievances being expressed by farmers in France and across the bloc, the country's farming minister Marc Fesneau said on Monday amid ongoing protests. 

Farmers set up chokepoints along major arteries into Paris on Monday afternoon, with the government ordering the deployment of 15,000 police and paramilitary gendarmes in response.

The farmers attached signs to their tractors that read "no food without farmers" and "the end of us would mean famine for you."

"This is the final battle for farming. It's a question of survival," one farmer in the southwestern Lot-et-Garonne department told the AFP news agency.

French farmers and their tractors head for Paris

What is the farmers' complaint?

Many farmers are unhappy about the EU's 2023 nature restoration law, which requires member countries to introduce environmental measures on a fifth of their land and sea by 2030.

To reach this goal, around 4% of farmland has to remain fallow, cutting into farmers' production capabilities.

Protesting farmers in France
The protest caused traffic to grind to a halt on several major thoroughfaresImage: David Thierry/MAXPPP/IMAGO

"Our target is not to annoy French people or to make their lives difficult, but to put pressure on the government," Arnaud Rousseau, head of the FNSEA union, said on RTL radio.

"What we have understood though is that as long as the protest is far from Paris, the message is not getting through."

On Friday, the French government abandoned controversial plans to reduce state subsidies on agricultural diesel and promised a reduction in red tape and an easing of environmental regulations.

But Rousseau demanded further concessions, promising industrial action would continue nationwide "with the aim of securing emergency measures about the core of our business."

On Sunday, two activists hurled soup at the glass protecting the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum to draw attention to the agriculture industry. "What is more important? Art or the right to healthy and sustainable food?" the activists asked.

Protesting farmers in France
Farmers said the government's proposals have so far failed to meet their expectationsImage: Moritz Thibaud/ABACA/IMAGO

Farmers protests spread to Belgium

Traffic was also disrupted by angry Belgian farmers around Brussels, where French President Macron is set to attend an EU leaders' summit this week at which he will push for more pro-farming policies.

Farming minister Fesenau added he would also travel to Brussels this week in his bid to soften EU regulations regarding fallow land.

Back in France, disruption on the roads could also be compounded by taxi drivers protesting against new tariffs on the transportation of medical patients.

Politically, the protests represent the first major challenge for France's new prime minister, Gabriel Attal, appointed by President Macron in the hope of freshening up his government's image.

Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen has been attempting to portray her far-right National Rally as being on the side of the protesters.

zc,mf/rc (AFP, Reuters)