France’s new Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal, has offered support to farmers in a protest movement that has led to tractors shutting down highways across the country and inspired similar actions around Europe.
Farmers are demanding better pay, fewer constraints, and lower costs. Attal promised emergency cash aid to struggling wine producers and quick payments of EU subsidies to others.
He also said food retailers who don’t comply with a law meant to ensure a fair share of revenues for farmers will be fined, starting immediately. French farmers have spent the night at barricades to press their case that growing and rearing food has become too difficult and not sufficiently lucrative.
Protesters rejected pro-agriculture measures announced by Attal last week as insufficient and threatened to move in on the capital, host of the Summer Olympics in six months, if their demands aren’t met. The government announced a deployment of 15,000 police officers, mostly in the Paris region, to stop any effort by the protesters to enter the capital.
Officers and armored vehicles were stationed at the Parisian hub for fresh food supplies, the Rungis market. Farmers who slept on a highway near the Disneyland theme park east of Paris were skeptical that the government would do enough to help.
They grilled sausages, set up a television to watch the prime minister’s speech, and hung an effigy of a dying farmer from a bridge. In neighboring Belgium, a delegation from the Belgian Young Farmers association is blocking the main highway between Paris and Brussels for a third day in a row.
Farmers in Spain and Italy are also demonstrating, protesting increased production costs, higher taxation, lower incomes, and cuts to diesel benefits. The movement in France is another manifestation of a global food crisis worsened by Russia’s nearly two-year full-scale war in Ukraine.
French farmers argue that higher prices for fertilizer, energy, and other inputs have eaten into their incomes. Macron defended the EU farm policy overall as the only way to keep European agriculture alive in a globalized economy.