French farmers block roads, bridges as protests sweep country

by Ryan Hanrahan, farm policy news editor and social media director for University of Illinois’ farmdoc project

Just a few weeks after farmer protests against government regulations and taxes began in Germany, protests are now “spreading across Europe, with workers from countries including France and Poland disrupting transport routes over rising costs and burdensome regulations,” Bloomberg’s William Horobin and Milda Seputyte reported.

The protestors also made their way to the European Union headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, “where farmers decried everything from petty bureaucratic meddling to the scourge of bankruptcy and worse,” the Associated Press’ Sylvie Corbet and Raf Casert reported.

In response, “European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday that it’s time to address the growing divisions over agriculture as she tried to respond to burgeoning protests from farmers over green policies and subsidy cuts in a crucial election year for Europe,” according to reporting from Bloomberg’s Lyubov Pronina, Jorge Valero, and Valentine Baldassari.

Protests in France

The bulk of the new protests this week are taking place across France, where “protesting farmers blocked roads across France on Wednesday to press the government to ease its drive for lower consumer prices and loosen environmental regulations,” Reuters reporters Nacho Doce and Kate Abnett reported.

“Many farmers struggle financially and say their livelihoods are threatened as food retailers are increasing pressure to bring down prices after a period of high inflation,” Doce and Abnett wrote. “‘There are too many regulations,’ Thomas Bonnet, the head of a youth farmers’ union in southwestern France’s Castelnaudary area, told Reuters at a blockade.”

While the blockade has so far not spread into Paris, “Arnaud Rousseau, head of the powerful FNSEA farming union, told France 2 TV he could not rule out that protests could disrupt the Paris region,” Reuters reported.

The protests in France have already had deadly implications, as the BBC’s Chris Bockman and Paul Kirby reported that on Tuesday, “a French farmer in her thirties and her 12-year-old daughter have died after a car crashed into a roadblock during a nationwide protest by French farmers. The accident, which left the farmer’s husband badly injured, happened an hour south of Toulouse as the protest grew.”

Protests in Poland and Lithuania

In Poland on Wednesday, “disgruntled farmers slow-drove their tractors through major cities in protest at what they call “unfair” competition from neighboring Ukraine, which has been granted special wartime export regulations,” Corbet and Casert reported.

“More than 1,000 farmers with tractors also began a protest in the center of Vilnius, in Lithuania, and pledged to continue the demonstration until Friday,” Horobin and Seputyte wrote.

Protests in Belgium

“Around 200 farmers gathered in central Brussels on Wednesday, saying they can no longer cope with EU regulations and tumbling earnings, according to Le Soit newspaper,” Horobin and Seputyte reported.

“Smaller family farmers are behind many of the protests across the bloc,” Corbet and Casert wrote. “They complain that applying nitpicking EU regulations not only force them to spend hours on their laptops instead of their tractors, but also require major investments that starts bleeding red on their books. The EU and governments insist that a warming climate and agricultural pollution forces them to push through drastic measures. Those measures are now raising anger.”

And “with the political visibility of farming and food going to the heart and origins of the EU, the volatile sector could turn into a burning issue before the June 6-9 European Parliament election, pitting traditional political groups on the defensive against populist and far-right parties sensing an opportunity,” Corbet and Casert reported.