The farmers of France are mobilising. Their anger will be an early test for Gabriel Attal; the countryside is unknown territory for the new prime minister, a young man raised in the affluent suburbs of Paris, like the majority of Emmanuel Macron’s government.
The first dissent was on Friday in the south-west of France, in and around Toulouse. On the motorway linking the city to the Atlantic coast, the farmers erected a barricade with bales of hay that is still in place three days later. Their largest union, the FNSEA, has warned this is likely to be the first of many such actions. Their president, Arnaud Rousseau told the government: ‘What interests me isn’t the performance, but the answers that will be given to farmers over the next few days to long-standing demands.’
There was also a gentle threat to a president with a reputation for theatrically promising much and delivering practically nothing: ‘Words are no longer enough for farmers,’ said Rousseau. ‘What we need are concrete actions’.
Representatives of FNSEA will meet Attal today. He will hear their many grievances: a tax on tractor fuel, irrigation restrictions following last year’s drought, cheap imports from abroad and anger at the endless and increasing red tape that makes their lives harder each month.
There is particular rage at the free trade agreement signed in November between the EU and New Zealand. In the words of the NZ government, this deal ‘cuts costs through more favourable access to the EU…increases opportunities and reduces barriers’.
Europe’s farmers believe the competition puts them at a disadvantage, as do many French politicians. Marine Le Pen claimed that the EU is ‘undermining the sovereignty and food security’ of France and its ultimate objective is ‘to see the disappearance of French agriculture’.