French Farmers to Extend Protests to Pressure Government

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(Bloomberg) -- French farmers said they will gradually extend protests across the country until the government responds to their concerns over rising costs and bureaucracy.

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“Every minute, we’re hearing that new blockades are being set up,” Arnaud Rousseau, the head of the FNSEA farming union, said on RMC radio on Tuesday. “It can last a day, it can last a week, it can last as long as necessary for answers to be provided.”

The farmers are demanding financial support to offset the cost of European Union environmental rules and competition from cheaper imports. They are also struggling with the impact of inflation on energy and fuel prices.

Farmers have blocked a highway in southwestern France since late last week. Disruption has now extended to a second highway in the southeast.

The protests in France echo similar tensions across the region, including in Germany and the Netherlands, over the paring back of subsidies and the approval of European laws to protect the environment. Far-right parties have latched onto such issues and are using them in their messaging ahead of European Parliament elections set for June.

In Paris, union leaders held talks with newly appointed Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau for about two hours late Monday, after which both sides said they agreed on the diagnosis of the issues facing the industry.

“We have to listen, collectively, to the anger that’s being expressed,” Fesneau told reporters after the meeting. “And then we have to try to provide answers very quickly, and that’s what’s at stake in the coming days.”

He said some measures would be announced this week.

Speaking shortly before the minister, Rousseau called for measures on issues including prices, commercial negotiations with retailers and the food industry, and fuel taxes. He added that changes are also needed at the European level and urged French President Emmanuel Macron to step in.

“I want to reiterate how urgent it is for France to take decisions quickly to give prospects again” to the country’s 400,000 farmers, Rousseau told RMC.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is set to kick off meetings with the agricultural sector this week in an attempt to placate farmers’ anger over green policies and subsidy cuts that are putting pressure on the industry, according to people familiar with the matter.

The EU has spent €2.5 billion ($2.7 billion) on crisis-related measures to support farmers since 2014 and has allocated more than €260 billion to its massive agricultural fund for the 2023-2027 period, around one-third of the common EU budget

French agricultural production, excluding subsidies, totaled €95.5 billion last year, according to statistics agency Insee.

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