By Sylvie Corbet And John Leicester, The Associated Press on January 29, 2024.
JOSSIGNY, France (AP) – Protesting farmers sought to encircle Paris with tractor barricades and drive-slows on Monday, converging in their lumbering vehicles on France’s capital to pressure the government over the future of their industry, which has been shaken by repercussions of the Ukraine war.
Traffic blockages that farmers began to put in place on major highways heading for Paris – host of the Summer Olympics in six months – and continued protests elsewhere in France promised another difficult week for new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, less than a month into the job.
Attal failed to defuse the farmers’ movement last week with a series of pro-agriculture measures that protesters said fell short of their demands that producing food should be more lucrative, easier and fairer.
Protesters responded with their attention-grabbing plan to converge with their tractors on major highways that serve Paris, hoping to create what they described as a “siege” intended to squeeze more concessions from Attal’s government.
The tractor convoys were an arresting sight, highlighting gulfs in economic opportunity between town and country in France. Protesters said they felt ignored by government ministers they accused of rarely venturing to farms and getting their shoes dirty.
The government announced a deployment of 15,000 police officers, mostly in the Paris region, to head off any effort by protesters to get into the capital itself. Officers were also deployed to protect Paris’ airports and its hub for fresh food supplies, the Rungis market.
Protesters who were preparing to block all six lanes of the A4 highway east of Paris, at Jossigny near the Disneyland theme park, carried placards declaring “No food without farmers,” “The end of us would mean famine for you” and expressing anger with food imports.
“Our goal isn’t to bother or to ruin French people’s lives,” Arnaud Rousseau, president of the influential FNSEA agricultural union, said on RTL radio. “Our goal is to put pressure on the government to rapidly find solutions out of the crisis.”
The movement in France is another manifestation of a global food crisis worsened by Russia’s nearly two-year full-scale war in Ukraine, a major food producer.
French farmers assert that war-impacted higher prices for fertilizer, energy and other inputs for growing crops and feeding livestock have eaten into their incomes, even making farming untenable for some.
Protesters also argue that France’s massively subsidized farming sector is over-regulated and hurt by food imports from countries where agricultural producers face lower costs and fewer constraints. Rousseau used Ukrainian sugar producers as an example, saying their soaring exports to Europe since Russia invaded in February 2022 are “untenable” for European counterparts.
Taxi drivers with other grievances also organized drive-slow protests Monday. Traffic authorities in the Paris area reported protests causing snarls on multiple major highways heading into the capital. Authorities elsewhere in the country reported disruptions and recommended that road users switch to public transport if possible.
Leicester reported from Le Pecq, France.