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Farmers' unions call for an end to blockades in France

Photo: Emmanuel Dunand Agence France-Presse Farmers were still blocking the A9 motorway on Thursday morning, near Chilly-Mazarin, south of Paris.

France Media Agency in Paris

February 1, 2024

  • Europe

The European Commission pledged Thursday to “reduce the administrative burden” to respond to farmers' anger, which appears to be easing in France after the announcement of a series of measures by the executive.

“We will work on a proposal […] to reduce the administrative burden” of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) procedures, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at the 'resulting from a European summit.

This proposal will be “ready in time” for the next meeting of European agriculture ministers, scheduled for February 26 in Brussels, she promised.

“We must defend the legitimate interests of farmers, particularly in our trade negotiations, by ensuring a level playing field in terms of standards,” Ms von der Leyen also declared, following a day marked by a parade of tractors in Brussels.

For his part, French President Emmanuel Macron called for a “European health and agricultural control force” during a press conference following the summit.

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The crisis in Brussels

M. Macron, whose government announced new measures for farmers on Thursday, also welcomed having ensured that the controversial trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and the Latin American countries of Mercosur, denounced by the farmers, was not “concluded in haste as some threatened to do”.

He also announced that the EU would introduce controls on imports of Ukrainian cereals, competition for which is making farmers nervous. Mr. Macron considered that there was no “inconsistency” with European support for kyiv in the establishment of this cereal control.

The agricultural crisis came to the fore Thursday during this Brussels summit mainly devoted to European financial aid to Ukraine at war, which resulted in an agreement for aid of 50 billion euros (CA$73 billion).

Thousands of demonstrators from several countries and some 1,200 tractors invaded the streets of the European capital to echo the anger of the agricultural world across Europe. “This is not the Europe we want”, “Let’s get food out of free trade”, “fewer standards” chanted the demonstrators speaking French, Dutch, Italian and German.

In all EU countries, Brussels is the designated target of agricultural anger. European policy too complex, incomes too low, inflation, foreign competition, accumulation of standards, soaring fuel prices: similar demands are found from Germany to Poland, via Italy.

Towards appeasement in France ?

Hundreds of Portuguese farmers blocked several roads on Thursday morning , including two crossings at the border with Spain, in order to demand “promotion of their activity”.

In Greece, 300 tractors and dozens of beekeepers' trucks, honking their horns and displaying black and white flags, stopped in front of the municipal center of Thessaloniki, Greece's second city, shouting ” Farmers, they drink your blood.”

In France, the majority unions called on Thursday to suspend the country's blockades, after a new series of announcements from Prime Minister Gabriel Attal in favor of the sector in crisis.

Mr. Attal thus promised an envelope of 150 million euros (CA$218 million) “starting this year and on a long-term basis” dedicated to measures intended to relieve the tax and social burden of the country's breeders.

In total, the measures announced since Monday in France in favor of the agricultural sector represent an envelope of 400 million euros (CA$580 million), according to the Ministry of the Economy.

The head of the French government also announced on Thursday the “pause” of a plan which sets objectives for reducing the use of pesticides and crystallizes the anger of field crop producers, causing consternation of the Ecologists party, which denounced an “unacceptable” and “dramatic” setback.

But the main farmers' unions were satisfied.

Arnaud Rousseau, the boss of the powerful FNSEA union, welcomed “tangible progress” and praised the “listening” of the executive. He, with the president of Young Farmers, Arnaud Gaillot, called for “suspending the blockades” in place since Monday on strategic routes, mainly around Paris.

Brussels had already made concessions at the start of the week by proposing to grant for 2024 a “partial” exemption from the fallow obligations imposed by the common agricultural policy (CAP).

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116