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February 24, 2024

French Farmers’ Protests Over Prices And Regulations Take Violent Turn

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Jan 24, 2024

French farmers have been staging widespread protests over the past week, blocking roads and dumping manure in cities across the country. The demonstrations turned deadly on Monday when a driver struck a roadblock, killing a woman sitting on a haystack. As talks between the government and farm unions approach, tensions are high and the prospect of further clashes looms.

Woman Killed After Car Strikes Farmers’ Roadblock

A 47-year-old woman was killed on Monday in central France after the car she was driving hit a small haystack on a roadblock set up by protesting farmers near the town of Poudenas, authorities said.

The driver’s 13-year-old daughter was also in the car and was hospitalized with serious injuries. The woman was apparently taking her daughter to school when the collision occurred.

Prosecutor Sebastien Doucet said an investigation is underway into the “involuntary manslaughter” of the 47-year-old woman.

According to Doucet, the haystack was set up at dawn by farmers protesting planned changes to agricultural policy. Roadblocks have become a common tactic used by French farmers in recent protests against proposed regulations and to demand better compensation from the government.

This tragic incident marks the first casualty related to the farmers’ demonstrations that have disrupted traffic nationwide this week.

Farmers Block Roads And Dump Manure As Anger Mounts

French farmers angry over high production costs and proposed environmental regulations have been obstructing roads and highways with hay bales and other materials at scattered locations around the country.

The demonstrations turned more destructive last week when farmers dumped manure, rotten vegetables and other farm waste in the streets of towns including Toulouse, Nantes, Lyon and Arles.

On Monday, tractors and protesters blocked traffic on highways from Provence in the southeast to Normandy in the northwest. Farmers’ unions said they carried out some 60 road blocks nationwide.

In Lyon, farmers sprayed manure at the headquarters of the regional prefect. Near Paris, police used tear gas to disperse farmers who blocked the ring road encircling the capital.

Government Seeks To Appease Farmers Ahead Of Talks

In recent days, French officials have been scrambling to mollify farmers and tamp down their anger ahead of talks scheduled for Friday between farm unions and the Agriculture Ministry.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government has tried to present concessions, postponing the implementation of an EU farming policy change that would have reduced subsidies for French farmers.

Prime Minister Olivier Attal promised to maintain subsidies for most farmers as part of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. He also said the government would examine farmers’ concerns about rising costs, regulatory burdens and unfair competition.

However, the government has warned it will not back down entirely from plans to limit the use of pesticides and curtail nitrate fertilizers that environmentalists blame for polluting waterways.

The proposed restrictions have incensed many farmers who say they are already operating on thin margins due to rising costs, market volatility, and extreme weather linked to climate change.

Farmers Demand Higher Prices And Less Regulation

At the core of the French farmers’ discontent are demands for higher prices for their products and less environmental rules.

Years of low incomes, droughts, soaring costs for fuel and fertilizer, and growing resentment of government policies viewed as hostile to agriculture have combined to ignite the recent protests.

“Farmers are exasperated by continuously rising costs and the bureaucratic burden, which is out of all proportion to their income,” said Samuel Vandaele, a farm union representative.

France has around 400,000 farms, and farmers are a powerful political constituency, especially in rural areas. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen has voiced strong support for the protesters’ demands, putting pressure on Macron’s centrist government before April’s European Parliament elections.

At Friday’s meeting with the government, farmers will call for price guarantees, exceptions from environmental rules, and delays to free trade deals with Latin American countries that could undermine French producers.

More Disruptive Protests Possible If No Agreement Reached

Farmers unions have warned that failure to obtain concessions from the government on Friday could result in an escalation of protest actions, including possible blockades of cities.

The head of the FNSEA, France’s biggest farm union, said earlier this month that ongoing protests could eventually target Paris.

Some farmers are even calling for a coordinated Europe-wide protest movement, along with German and other EU farmers who also feel aggrieved by agricultural policies seen as environmentally driven and indifferent to rural economic hardship.

French officials are anxious to avoid further chaos and violence resulting from the farming unrest. But the mood among protesters may make compromise difficult to achieve.

“If there is no agreement, the farmers will continue their action for as long as necessary,” a farm union member told Reuters.

Background Of The Farmers’ Anger

The recent demonstrations are the culmination of long-simmering resentment among French farmers toward government agricultural policies and market conditions they view as unfair.

Farm incomes in France have stagnated for years, squeezed between rising operating expenses and pressure from foreign competition. Costs for fuel, fertilizer, feed and equipment have soared, while prices paid to farmers for crops, meat and dairy have not kept pace.

Many farmers blame EUrules and global trade pacts for undercutting French producers while imposing ever more restrictions on farming practices in the name of the environment.

Plans to halt the expansion of farmland dedicated to crops like corn, alfalfa and oilseed rape, as part of France’s climate goals, have also drawn farmers’ ire.

Some farmers have called for policies like those in Spain and Italy, where authorities have enacted relief measures in response to high energy costs.

Outlook For Resolution Uncertain

It remains unclear whether Friday’s scheduled negotiations between farmers and the French government will produce an agreement satisfactory to the protesters.

Farm unions have warned of greater disruptions if authorities do not yield to demands such as price guarantees 22% above production costs.

Some officials have accused protest leaders of hardening their stance in response to sympathy protests in Germany, the Netherlands and Poland.

Environmental groups are pressuring the government not to discard regulations aimed at reducing pesticides and fertilizer pollution.

With parliamentary elections coming next year, President Macron is anxious to avoid images of chaos in French cities. But the economic constraints his government faces make major new concessions to farmers unlikely.

If sufficient progress is not made toward addressing their concerns on Friday, the prospect of more turmoil and tension across France’s countryside remains high.

Tables

Timeline of Recent French Farmers’ Protests

Date Actions
January 19 Farmers’ unions threaten nationwide protests
January 20 Roadblocks begin in southeast France
January 21 Manure dumped in streets of Toulouse
January 22 Paris ring road blocked
January 23 Woman killed at roadblock
January 24 Talks scheduled between farm unions and government

Farmers’ Demands

Issue Demands
Prices Minimum prices 22% above production costs
Regulations Reduced environmental restrictions
Trade Protection from foreign competition
Subsidies Maintain EU financial support

French Agricultural Statistics

Number of Farms Average Farm Size Farm Share of GDP
389,000 62 hectares 1.5%
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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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