French police arrested some protesting french farmers on Wednesday as tractor convoys approached Paris, Lyon, and other critical locations in France, with many ignoring warnings of police involvement if they crossed red lines set by ministers.
Farmers’ unions, unsatisfied with President Emmanuel Macron’s concessions, urged their members to continue fighting for higher wages, less red tape, and protection from international competition.
“I’m so proud of you,” Serge Bousquet-Cassagne, leader of the farmers’ organisation in the southwestern Lot-et-Garonne department, told demonstrators marching to the wholesale Rungis market south of Paris, a vital food distribution hub for the city.
“You are fighting this battle because if we don’t fight, we die,” he said.
Police reported 18 people from french farmers protest were arrested for “obstructing traffic” near Rungis, an area the administration had cautioned farmers to avoid.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told France 24 television that police were ready to defend vital locations and larger cities against french farmers protest.
“They can’t attack police, they can’t enter Rungis, the Paris airports, or the centre of Paris,” said Darmanin, who has previously instructed police to be cautious. “But let me tell you again that if they try, we will be there.”
French Farmers Protests Blocked Roadways
Despite the warning, a convoy of tractors that began in the French southwest resumed its journey to Rungis early Wednesday after overnighting on farms along the road, according to France 24 reporters.
In preparation for their arrival, police forces with armoured vehicles have deployed along the A6 motorway heading to the food market.
Darmanin reported that 10,000 farmers were demonstrating on French roadways Wednesday, blocking 100 places along important roads.
In addition to pushing on Paris, convoys attempted to encircle Lyon, France’s third-largest city.
‘Strength and Pride’
Farmers’ problems include increased costs for reaching carbon-cutting targets, gasoline prices, inflation, bureaucracy, and Ukrainian grain imports.
The French mobilisation has escalated into a significant dilemma for Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who has only been in office for three weeks following a cabinet shake-up.
Addressing parliament on Tuesday, Attal stated that his government was prepared to address the problem and highlighted agriculture as “our strength and pride”.
French Farmers’ Confederation calls for blockade
Agriculture represents the “values of work, freedom, and entrepreneurship,” according to Attal, who adds that it is “one of the foundations of our identity and traditions.”
He apparently alluded to controversial EU rules and stated, “France must be granted an exception for its agriculture.”
However, acknowledging that the initial set of measures announced on Friday did not go far enough, Attal informed MPs that “new support measures” would be revealed in the coming days.
On Tuesday evening, the prime minister met with representatives from the country’s largest farmers’ organisation, FNSEA, in Paris.
On Wednesday, he was scheduled to meet with another union, the Farmers’ Confederation. On Tuesday, the French Farmers’ Confederation called for the blockade of grocery store distribution facilities in protest of chains that sell agricultural items below cost at the expense of farmers.
It stated that Attal had not provided “any long-term prospects” for farmers.
Farmer Protests Throughout EU
France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire stated that Paris will oppose a trade agreement between the European Union and the South American group Mercosur, which has arisen as a major source of grievance among farmers concerned about foreign competition.
“The current Mercosur agreement is not beneficial to our farmers. “It cannot and will not be signed as is,” Le Maire told broadcasters.
During a visit to Sweden on Tuesday, Macron underlined France’s opposition to the proposed trade pact, but he also stated that it was “too easy” to blame all of the farmers’ problems on the EU.
“We did a lot in the last years to help,” said France’s president, whose country receives the most EU agricultural subsidies. Following more than a week of growing French protests, angry farmers from other European countries have joined the cause.
On Tuesday, dozens of Italian farmers protested with tractors outside Milan, the latest in a series of small rallies nationwide.
Spanish farmer unions announced that they will join the movement with a series of rallies, while Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowed to speed up financial aid to farmers to prevent protests from spreading to other nations.
Recently, farmer protests have taken place in Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, and Romania.
Environmental regulations under the EU’s modified Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the bloc’s upcoming “Green Deal” have sparked widespread outrage.
The Mercosur agreement and Ukrainian grain imports into the EU are on the agenda for meetings between Macron and EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen this Thursday.
To calm disgruntled farmers, the EU announced Wednesday that it will extend tariff-free entrance for Ukrainian farm products for a year beginning in June, but with “safeguards” to prevent cheaper imports from flooding the market.
For the most sensitive products – poultry, eggs, and sugar – an “emergency brake” would be applied to keep imports at 2022 and 2023 levels.
Brussels has proposed a one-year exception, although a partial one, from laws requiring farmers to leave a portion of their lands fallow as part of the EU’s common agricultural policy and to promote biodiversity.