(Paris) The majority unions FNSEA and Young Farmers called on Thursday to suspend blockades in France but promised to remain vigilant on the application of new measures announced shortly before by Prime Minister Gabriel Attal.
“We have decided that at the moment, in view of everything that has been announced (…), we need to change our modes of action and therefore we are calling on our networks (…) to suspend the blockades and to enter into a new form of mobilization”, indicated the president of the JA Arnaud Gaillot, alongside the boss of the FNSEA Arnaud Rousseau, during a press conference in Paris at the headquarters of the FNSEA.
Among the conditions set for not resuming the movement: “first results” before the Agricultural Show (February 24-March 3) then the adoption of an agricultural orientation and future law as well as measures European countries by June.
Failing this, “we will not hesitate to re-enter a general mobilization movement,” said Mr. Gaillot.
Mr. Rousseau generally praised the Prime Minister’s “listening” “to try to understand what our issues are, to receive us, to exchange, to discuss and finally to announce emergency measures in several bursts.” But “at the same time, we question the deafness of Europe”.
Shortly before, Mr. Attal, for his third round of announcements in a week, listed measures which according to him meet “a large part of the expectations” of farmers and are “likely” to calm the protest.
“We want to be sovereign, sovereign to cultivate, sovereign to harvest, sovereign to feed ourselves,” summarized Mr. Attal, promising to include “the objective of (food) sovereignty in the law” and to enshrine “in the code rural agriculture as a fundamental interest of the nation”.
Among Thursday’s announcements is a strengthening of the Egalim laws which aim to prevent producers from bearing the brunt of the fierce price war between supermarkets on the one hand, and distributors and suppliers of the agro-industry on the other. The Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire specified that “all major supermarket chains” will be “controlled in the coming days”.
Mr. Attal also announced an envelope of 150 million euros in tax and social support for breeders. Mr. Le Maire had already announced a tax exemption measure for cattle breeders in October. But the National Bovine Federation (FNB) expressed last week an “extremely strong disappointment” among breeders on this subject.
To facilitate the renewal of generations, Gabriel Attal also announced the raising of the exemption thresholds on agricultural inheritances.
He pledged to relax the rules on meadows and said he wanted to prevent the importation into France of fruits and vegetables treated with the pesticide thiacloprid, banned in Europe.
On phytosanitary measures, the government has also let go, promising in particular that the Ecophyto plan aimed at reducing the use of pesticides would be put “on pause”.
He also asked that the question of limiting Ukrainian grain imports into the European Union be included in a negotiation. The EU has not included cereals in a list of “sensitive” products on which imports can be curbed.
The question now is whether farmers on the ground will respond to instructions, especially since many of the demonstrators are not unionized.
“The tone has changed, let’s be positive. We finally have the impression that the Prime Minister has become aware of the issue: the tone is more solemn, more respectful towards us. We think that we have finally been heard,” said Michel Joux, president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes section of the FNSEA.
“But nothing is won, we will work together to see what follow-up to the movement,” he added.
“There is progress,” said Nicolas Merle, president of the Young Farmers Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. “But we are attentive: the information still remains vague, we will have to refine and above all analyze in detail everything that has been said”
Gabriel Attal had received the FNSEA at length in recent days, notably Monday evening for three and a half hours then almost three hours Tuesday evening, as well as Wednesday evening.
He also received representatives of the Peasant Confederation, the third agricultural union, and the Rural Coordination, the second union, on Wednesday morning.
President Emmanuel Macron, for his part, spoke in the morning with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on the subject of agriculture, before an extraordinary European summit devoted to the EU budget and aid to bring to Ukraine.
The aid released on Wednesday by the French government like the concessions from the European Commission (on fallow land and Ukrainian imports) did not seem to find favor in the eyes of the profession, also mobilized in Italy, Spain, Germany and since Thursday in Portugal .
“A thousand tractors or agricultural machinery” are blocking several streets in the Belgian capital, seat of the European institutions, a police spokesperson told AFP, specifying that the demonstrators mainly came from Belgium. The organizers explained that they wanted to denounce “the madness that threatens agriculture”.
In France, road blockages, snail operations and demonstrations in front of supermarkets continue on Thursday.
According to a police source, at midday, more than 6,000 demonstrators and 3,500 machines were mobilized in just under 100 blockades.