France | Agricultural anger grows, farmers arrested by police

(Paris) The first farmers were arrested on Wednesday in France, where, as in many neighboring countries, anger is brewing in the rural world towards the European Union, which is forcing Brussels to let go.

Fifteen people were taken into custody for “obstructing traffic” near the Rungis market, which they were threatening to invade, police sources and the prosecution indicated.

Rungis, south of Paris, is the largest fresh produce market in the world, and a crucial fruit and vegetable supply point for the capital.


French gendarmes wait in front of the Rungis market, south of Paris, on January 31, 2024.

These arrests are the first in a movement which has escalated since Monday in France, where farmers are blocking several highways leading to Paris with their tractors and causing a new social crisis a year after the highly contested pension reform.

On Wednesday, “more than 100 blocking points” and 10,000 demonstrators were recorded throughout the country, estimated Gérald Darmanin, French Minister of the Interior renowned for his firmness, but who this time is very understanding of what he described as “legitimate bloodshed” from a population “which is suffering and which does not earn much money”.

Tractors were also deployed on Wednesday around Lyon (center-east) to try to surround France’s third city.


French farmers take part in a road blockade near the Pont de Chevire, in the southwest suburbs of Nantes, on January 31, 2024.

The movement of anger is not limited to France: after demonstrations in Germany, Poland, Romania and Belgium in recent weeks, the three main Spanish agricultural unions have announced “mobilizations” throughout the country over the course of of the “next few weeks”.

Impromptu demonstrations have also taken place in recent weeks in Italy, where farmers claiming to be “betrayed by Europe” protested on Tuesday with their tractors, particularly near Milan (North), but also elsewhere in the country.

Portuguese farmers called for a mobilization Thursday morning on the country’s roads with tractors and agricultural machines. They call to fight for “fair conditions and for the promotion of their activity”, according to a press release. But for the moment, the main farmers’ associations have not joined this initiative.

Faced with discontent, the European Commission made concessions on Wednesday on two main subjects: it proposes to grant for 2024 a “partial” exemption from the fallow obligations imposed by the CAP and is considering a mechanism limiting imports from Ukraine, in particular Poultry.

“Late” effort

An exemption which comes “late” in the agricultural calendar and remains “limited”, regretted Copa-Cogeca, the organization of the majority agricultural unions in the EU.

European policy too complex, incomes too low, inflation, foreign competition particularly from Ukrainian products, soaring fuel prices: the same demands are found in most European countries facing agricultural discontent.

“We don’t necessarily want to be lulled by aid, we above all want remunerative prices,” declares Johanna Trau, a cereal grower and breeder mobilized at one of the blocking points identified in France by the authorities.

Despite support measures, including the abandonment of the tax on non-road diesel and aid of 80 million euros for wine growers, the government has so far failed to put out the fire and is mobilizing on the European front.

Anger is crystallizing around the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the Twenty-Seven, judged by some to be disconnected from reality.

However, another subject of friction remains unresolved in Brussels: responsible for the trade policy of the Twenty-Seven, the Commission is currently negotiating a free trade agreement with the Mercosur countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay) which worries the agricultural sector and which Paris declares that it does not want.

This treaty with important agricultural countries “is not good for our breeders and cannot, must not be signed as it stands,” French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire declared on Wednesday, saying he was ready to a “standoff” with the Commission.

President Emmanuel Macron, who refuses to “blame everything on Europe”, is due to meet Thursday with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, on the sidelines of a European summit.

The boss of the powerful French agricultural union FNSEA, however, called on his troops “to calm and reason”. “The expectation is enormous” in the face of the “accumulation of standards and rules,” declared Arnaud Rousseau. But “there are also many European issues which are not issues which can be resolved in three days”.

The new CAP, which has strengthened the environmental obligations and legislation of the European Green Deal (or “Green Deal”) since 2023 – even if they are not yet in force – is crystallizing anger. France is the leading beneficiary of European agricultural subsidies, with more than 9 billion euros per year.


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