French Farmers Halt Protests After Government Promises Changes

Posted by on Feb 7, 2024 in Stuff You Should Know, World

French farmers had been protesting for weeks to bring about reforms in the agricultural industry. They finally received several promises of change from the government on Thursday, February 1, 2024. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced plans to help the farmers and meet their demands. This led to the French farmers’ unions calling for an end to the protesters’ tractor roadblocks around the country.  

Reasons Behind the Protests 

There are many reasons why French farmers had been protesting. It has become more difficult to make a living as a farmer in France. The coronavirus pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and support for more environment-friendly farming practices have put economic pressure on farmers.  

A patchwork landscape of France,
Famers in France were protesting against economic challenges.

Since early 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine, fuel costs have risen dramatically. The war has slowed the shipment of fuel exports from Russia and Ukraine. This drop in the fuel supply caused an increase in the cost of fuel. For farmers, who rely on tractors, harvesters, and other farming equipment that use fuel, these costs are significant. Prices for fertilizer have also soared. Some of the ingredients in agricultural fertilizer used by French farmers are produced in Russia. So, the war has caused fertilizer supply to decrease and therefore costs to rise.  

Imports of cheaper agricultural products are also worrying French farmers. Other countries do not have the same types of farming regulations. The European Union has been negotiating a free trade agreement with the MERCOSUR trade group in Latin America. MERCOSUR member countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela can sell their agricultural products in the EU at a lower price than French farmer can sell their products. 

Concerns about farming are not limited to France. Farmers have also recently been protesting in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Portugal, and Greece. Farmers are upset with the European Union’s policies. One such policy is an environmental regulation for some fields to remain fallow, or unused. The Nature Restoration Law requires 20 percent of land and sea in Europe to be restored for natural habitats. Farmers claim reducing the available farmland to meet this law would hurt the agriculture industry. 

Tractor Barricades 

Thousands of French farmers began protesting nationwide by blocking roads with slow-moving tractors and hay bales on January 18, 2024. They also dumped agricultural waste at some government buildings. On Friday, January 26, the French government announced that there would be some changes in the industry to aid farmers. The government offered to simplify many technical regulations. It also offered to gradually reduce diesel fuel taxes. Farmers’ unions, however, argued that these proposals were not enough to solve the many challenges farmers faced.  

On Monday, January 29, farmers again used their tractors to block roads in protest. Farmers blocked several busy highways around Paris for days to put additional pressure on the government.  

Proposed Changes 

Due to the protests, on February 1, Prime Minister Attal promised a long list of changes in the farming industry. These changes aim to increase farmers’ income and protect them from unfair competition. Among the government’s promises is an aid package of 150 million euros ($163 million) for livestock farmers. It also agreed to pause a plan to reduce pesticide use. It promised to ban imports of foreign produce treated with thiacloprid (a pesticide outlawed in France). The government also promised financial aid for new farmers and tax breaks for retirees who pass on their farms to younger generations. 

The European Union also proposed ways to limit the effect of Ukrainian imports on other farmers throughout Europe. It wants to apply tariffs, or taxes, on Ukrainian goods including eggs, poultry, and sugar to reduce price differences.  

The two main farmers’ unions in France were encouraged by these measures and called for an end to the protests. Now they will watch to see that these proposals become law.  

Dig Deeper Ukraine is a major producer of grains. Research to see why Ukraine is exporting much of its grain through eastern Europe since the start of the Russian invasion in 2022.