Protesting French farmers encircle Paris with tractors

By Sylvie Corbet and John Leicester | Associated Press

JOSSIGNY, France — Protesting farmers encircled Paris with traffic-snarling barricades Monday, using hundreds of lumbering tractors and mounds of hay bales to block highways leading to France’s capital to pressure the government over the future of their industry, which has been shaken by repercussions of the Ukraine war.

The blockading of major thoroughfares around Paris — host of the Summer Olympics in six months — and protests elsewhere in France promised another difficult week for new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, less than a month into the job.

Protesters said Attal’s attempts last week at pro-agriculture measures fell short of their demands that producing food should be more lucrative, easier and fairer.

Farmers responded with the deployment Monday of convoys of tractors, trailers and even rumbling harvesters in what they described as a “siege” of Paris to gain more concessions. Some protesters came with reserves of food and water and tents to stay at barricades if the government doesn’t cede ground.

“We’ve come to defend French agriculture,” said Christophe Rossignol, a 52-year-old farmer of organic orchards and other crops. Tractors at the barricade east of Paris were parked so they formed what looked like an ear of wheat when seen from the air.

“We go from crisis to crisis,” Rossignol said. Some vehicles carried placards declaring “No food without farmers” and “The end of us would mean famine for you.”

The barricades highlighted gulfs in economic and social 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 stop any effort by protesters to enter the capital. Officers and armored vehicles also were stationed at Paris’ hub for fresh food supplies, the Rungis market.

Paris region traffic authorities reported blockages on the A1 highway just north of the city’s main international airport, on the A4 near the Disneyland theme park east of the capital and on other usually busy highways.

“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.”

Farmers in neighboring Belgium also set up barricades to stop traffic reaching some main highways, including into the capital, Brussels. Most protests are happening in the French-speaking part of the country.

A farmer from Tournai in western Belgium, Clemente Glorieux, said agricultural producers are “fed up. At some point, rules and constraints are imposed on us, whether administrative or financial. This has been harmful for a while now, so we’re starting to ask ourselves questions about our future.”

Glorieux and farmers at barricades around Paris said they aim to keep protesting at least until Thursday, when leaders from the European Union’s 27 nations are to meet in Brussels for a summit focused on financial support for Ukraine.

“We have everything we need to eat, barbecues, and a wall of hay to shield ourselves from the wind. We have the equipment and we’re settling in alright!” said Paris-region farmer and protester Jean-Baptiste Benoit.

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.

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French farmers assert that higher prices for fertilizer, energy and other inputs for growing crops and feeding livestock have eaten into their incomes.

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, adding to the traffic chaos in the Paris area and other parts of the country. Authorities recommended that road users switch to public transport if possible.

Leicester reported from Le Pecq, France. AP journalist Mark Carlson in Halle, Belgium, also contributed.

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