In a week full of symbolism in France, the most striking image was the sight of armoured cars blocking the path of tractors outside Paris. The city’s first great wall was constructed at the end of the 12th century on the orders of Philip Augustus, but here was a new wall, of armour, erected at the command of Emmanuel Macron. They shall not pass.
And so they didn’t. A few tractors made it as far as the international market at Rungis, five miles south of Paris; their drivers were arrested and held overnight. They were released a short time before Prime Gabriel Attal announced a new set of measures to placate the farmers: stacks of cash and a promise to put the pride back into farming.
The offer has been accepted by the two biggest unions, which announced it was ‘suspending’ the protest, though they have warned the government they will be back if the pledges are not honoured. Some farmers have refused to lift their blockades though. For them it’s not about the money, it’s about the ceaseless degradation of their industry by bureaucrats in Paris and Brussels.
But the biggest convoy of tractors, more than 150, is this morning driving away from Paris. Thirty tractors were in the initial column that set out from Agen on Monday but as they moved north through the countryside their numbers swelled.
So did the crowds who turned out to cheer on the convoy as it motored north towards the capital, as if was an army of liberation. Villagers dished out food, motorists honked their horns, and in Bergerac a priest in his clergy robes blessed each tractor as it passed. He is representative of the Catholic church in France, which has urged the government to ‘listen’ to the farmers.
The police who shadowed the tractors didn’t join in the good cheer but their sympathies nonetheless lie with the farmers.