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Tractors blocking the A15 motorway on the outskirts of Paris Alamy

Explainer: Why are farmers in France blocking the motorways?

Some farmers even camped on blockaded motorways overnight, showing no let up despite government concessions.

THOUSANDS OF FARMERS in France have been using their tractors to encircle Paris, blocking motorways around the clock.

The country’s farming sector, a leading agricultural producer in Europe, has become increasingly strained – and it’s not afraid to shout about it.

Some farmers even camped on blockaded motorways overnight, showing no let up despite government concessions.

Protestors say their frustration comes down to three things: low incomes, red tape and environmental policies that are undermining their ability to compete with other countries.

Scenes on the motorways

Protesting farmers yesterday blocked the A13 motorway to the west of Paris, the A4 to the east and the A6 to the south.

By mid-afternoon they had established eight choke points on major roads into the city, according to Sytadin, a traffic monitoring service.

In response, the government ordered the deployment of 15,000 police and gendarmes.

Armoured police vehicles were deployed to Rungis international wholesale food market yesterday after some farmers threatened to “occupy” it.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the protests would also not be allowed to affect Paris’s Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports.

Police and gendarmes are also under orders to prevent any incursion into Paris itself, Darmanin said.

farmers-carry-mattresses-to-camp-on-a-highway-monday-jan-29-2024-in-argenteuil-north-of-paris-protesting-farmers-were-encircling-paris-with-tractor-barricades-and-drive-slows-on-monday-using-th Farmers carry mattresses to camp on a motorway in Argenteuil, north of Paris Alamy Alamy

What’s it all about?

There are close to half a million farmers in France, according to the European Commission, producing one fifth of the EU’s total agricultural output.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has meant the cost of importing goods from the latter has skyrocketed in the last two years. This is not a problem unique to France, but French farmers say they’ve felt a significant strain on operations.

Additionally, efforts by the government to curb the environmental impact of the sector have meant tighter restrictions and more red tape for farmers, which they say they can’t afford.

They also want better pay for the work they do and the food they produce in the country.

French President Emmanuel Macron appears to have bigger fish to fry, jetting off to Sweden today for a two-day state visit as the Nordic country is on the cusp of joining NATO.

This likely won’t be well-received by protestors, who haven’t been subdued by Macron’s minimal interventions so far.

farmers-spend-the-night-at-a-highway-barricade-in-aix-en-provence-southern-france-tuesday-jan-30-2024-frances-protesting-farmers-encircled-paris-with-traffic-snarling-barricades-monday-using-h Farmers spend the night at a highway barricade in Aix-en-Provence, southern France, after protesting all day Alamy Alamy

Where it all began

The demonstrations started out as a grass-roots roadblock near Carbonne, a town outside Toulouse.

Jerome Bayle, one of the organisers, told AFP that it was his farmer father’s suicide that inspired him to take action.

“He couldn’t go on anymore, he wasn’t working properly, he was letting himself go, even though he had been a very good livestock farmer,” he recalled.

Bayle started out training to be a stonemason, only to take over the herd of 90 cattle after his father’s death.

He said that securing the farm’s future is an homage to him.

Now leading a campaign garnering international attention, Bayle says he’s not looking to be a “superhero”, but he’s happy to “sound the call for revolt”.

toulouse-france-22nd-jan-2024-photopqrla-depeche-du-midilaurent-dard-toulouse-22012024-ddm-laurent-dard-manifestation-des-agriculteurs-blocage-de-l-autoroute-a64-au-niveau-de-carb Jerome Bayle at a protest in Toulouse last week Alamy Alamy


On Friday, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who is in the job less than a month, met with protestors to announce concessions the government is prepared to make.

The mooted increase in the agricultural fuel tax was dropped, and better financial aid for irrigation and compensation for a wave of diseases are to be provided. 

The government also said it is “drastically simplifying” certain technical procedures for farmers.

Bayle accepts the terms, but others say they only scrape the surface.

“What was said tonight won’t calm the anger, more is needed,” Arnaud Rousseau, head of the powerful FNSEA farmers’ union, said on Friday.

“With his announcements the Prime Minister has lifted one barrier…while there are hundreds.”

The standoff is expected to continue until greater concessions are made, or farmers get tired of incessant protesting. 

With reporting by the Press Association and © AFP 2024 

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