France | Anger grows, farmers arrested by police

(Paris) Around a hundred farmers were arrested on Wednesday in France where, as in many neighboring countries, notably Italy, anger is brewing in the rural world against the European Union, which forced Brussels to let go .

After an intrusion late in the afternoon into a “storage area” of the Rungis market, the largest fresh produce market in the world and a crucial supply point for the French capital, 79 people were arrested. This is in addition to the 15 arrests that occurred a little earlier for “obstructing traffic” near Rungis, south of Paris.

These arrests are the first in a movement that 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.


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

At midday on Wednesday, more than 80 blockades, 4,500 devices and 6,000 demonstrators were recorded in the country, according to a police source. Renowned for his firmness, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin is very understanding for what he described as “legitimate bloodshed”.

The movement of anger is not limited to France, with demonstrations in Germany, Poland, Romania and Belgium in recent weeks.

In Italy, thousands of farmers, from Sardinia to Piedmont, demonstrated again on Wednesday. “Agriculture is dying”, we could read in Cuneo, a town in the north of the country crossed by a hundred tractors honking their horns.

In Spain, gatherings were reported near Leon and Zamora, in the northwest. The Spanish Minister of Agriculture announced that he would receive the three main agricultural unions on Friday, who promised “mobilizations” in the “coming weeks”.

Portuguese farmers also called for mobilization on Thursday morning on the country’s roads with tractors and agricultural machines.

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.


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

“Late” effort

If Paris welcomed the fact that Brussels had “responded to France’s requests”, this exemption comes “late” 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 have to say that some of the EU’s choices are wrong,” said Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida. “Reducing production while consumption remains the same amounts to buying more from those who do not respect your rules on labor law and the environment.”

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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