Protesting farmers in France lift roadblocks as standoff eases

Protesting farmers in France lift roadblocks as standoff eases
Protesting farmers in France lift roadblocks as standoff eases

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - French Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Minister Marc Fesneau delivers a speech during a press conference at the Hotel Matignon, in Paris, on February 1, 2024, to answer to farmers protesting over pay, tax and regulation. — AFP pic

PARIS, Feb 2 — France’s agriculture minister said today that the worst of a crisis that saw farmers block roads nationwide for days was over, as protesters began lifting roadblocks following government promises of cash and eased regulation.

In some of the angriest protests that have spread across Europe, French farmers have been out in force for more than a week, using tractors to block key roads into Paris and other major highways nationwide.

The litany of farmers’ complaints is long, ranging from burdensome environmental rules to cheap imports of produce from outside the EU such as Ukraine, but focus on the difficulty of making ends meet in the modern world.

Yesterday, two main farming unions announced the suspension of the action, urging the protesters to take their tractors off the streets, after Prime Minister Gabriel Attal promised cash, eased regulations and protection against unfair competition.

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Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau said today that the worst of the crisis was “pretty much behind us”.

“But the issues that we have to deal with and that have emerged in this crisis are still ahead of us,” he told CNews television.

Authorities said Thursday evening that many roadblocks across the country were being lifted or eased and farmers continued to move tractors off the streets on Friday, even though some blockades remained in place.

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Tractors blocking the A1 motorway near Paris Charles de Gaulle airport were heading back, farmers said.

‘Strong mobilisation’

“It was a historic, tough, strong mobilisation,” said Laurent Saint-Affre of the FDSEA union in the southern Aveyron department. But he added that a number of sticking points remained, warning authorities that farmers could take their tractors out on the streets again “in a few days”.

Speaking to RTL, Arnaud Gaillot, head of the Young Farmers (JA) union, pointed to a sense of “fatigue” after days of protests and a “desire to put things on hold.”

In Yvelines, west of Paris, the number of vehicles involved in a blockade had fallen from around twenty to seven tractors on Friday morning, police said.

The roadblocks on the A4 and A5 motorways in Seine-et-Marne east of the French capital have been lifted.

Around Lyon, all roadblocks were expected to be lifted by 2:00pm (1300 GMT) today.

A police source told AFP however that some protesters wanted to stay put until Saturday, while several “isolated groups” sought to remain in place until France’s huge Salon de l’Agriculture trade fair that opens on February 24.

A roadblock was set up this morning at a tollgate near the city of Saint-Quentin in northern France, according to one activist, Bruno Cardot, who called the action the farmers’ “last stand.”

‘Fundamental question’

The FNSEA, France’s biggest rural union, wants to see the first government measures implemented by the start of the trade fair and a law passed by June, its head Arnaud Rousseau said on BFMTV.

Another major union, the Farmers’ confederation (la Confederation Paysanne), said it would remain mobilised because “the fundamental question of income” was “still not being tackled head-on by the government”.

The French protests have spread across the continent and thousands of farmers from Europe gathered in Brussels on Thursday, clogging the streets with 1,300 tractors.

Protests continued Thursday in Italy, with farmers driving a convoy of tractors through the Sicilian town of Ragusa and farmers also blocking the port in Cagliari, on the neighbouring island of Sardinia.

Dutch and Belgian farmers took part in a road blockade near the Arendonk road border crossing between Belgium and the Netherlands.

French President Emmanuel Macron said after talks in Brussels Thursday with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen that France had managed to persuade the EU to “impose stricter rules” for cereal and poultry imports, including from war-torn Ukraine.

In a key announcement designed to break the deadlock, the government announced Thursday that France would pause its Ecophyto programme aimed at massively reducing the use of pesticides in farming.

Environmental groups slammed the move but government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot sought to defend the decision on Friday, saying environmental policies should be based “on concrete realities”. — AFP

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