Clashes between farmers and police at the Paris Agricultural Fair

Clashes between farmers and police at the Paris Agricultural Fair

Clashes between farmers and police at the Paris Agricultural Fair

French farmers expressed their fury at President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday as he arrived at the annual agricultural show in Paris, a giant fair long seen as a test of presidents’ relations with the countryside.

A large crowd who had camped outside the previous night broke in and fought with police in riot gear as Mr Macron entered through a side door to meet unions demanding an end to the industry’s woes .

During an hour-long closed-door meeting before the fair opened, with senior cabinet members alongside Mr Macron, farmers sang the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise”, at full lungs, whistled, raised fists and shouted for the President resigned, as wayward cows and pigs brought to the capital from farms across the country watched nervously from their show pens.

The heated confrontation was the latest in a month-long standoff that saw farmers block roads in France and Paris – a movement that spread to other countries, including Greece, Poland, in Belgium and Germany.

The cause, according to farmers, is the sharp rise in costs, unfair competition from imports authorized in Europe from other countries capable of producing food at lower cost, and in particular European Union regulations intended to contain or reverse climate change.

Agriculture is responsible for around 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the European Union says radical change is needed. Farmers say EU targets impose stifling administrative and financial burdens.

When Mr. Macron emerged from the meeting, pale and haggard, he announced that his government would present a bill next month to respond to “an income crisis, a crisis of confidence and a crisis of recognition” for farmers in France. “We must show recognition, respect and pride for the agricultural model and for our farmers,” he said.

This is the latest in a series of attempts by new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal to woo farmers. But they are almost unanimous in demanding concrete changes rather than promises.

Mr. Macron stayed at the fair, known as the Salon International d’Agriculture, to engage in a lively, impromptu discussion with a select group of farmers eager to communicate their frustrations directly. Many of them wore yellow, green and red hats to symbolize the unions to which they belonged.

“Cheap grain imports from Ukraine are destroying French agriculture. What are you going to do about it?’” asked a farmer, while Mr Macron, without his suit jacket and in a white shirt and tie, listened and took notes.

“We are struggling to make ends meet! » shouted another. “We shouldn’t have to block every road in the country to get the help we need. »

Mr Macron, who has struggled throughout his nearly seven-year presidency to build links with France’s poorest and most rural regions, where he is seen as isolated and distant, urged farmers not to not consider the situation “catastrophic”. agriculture was “not collapsing”. Later, he wandered around the hall under high security, speaking freely with the farmers and tasting their cheeses and meats, as an aggressive crowd outside the building grew louder and louder.

I called for calm. “We will not respond to this agricultural crisis in a few hours,” he said, adding that his government was taking many steps to resolve deep-rooted problems, including holding negotiations next month at the presidential palace with unions farmers, food manufacturers and retailers. to build “an agricultural plan for 2040”.

It seems a long way off for farmers and their families who are struggling to make it to the end of the month.

Mr Macron said an “emergency cash flow plan” would bring together banks and the agricultural sector to help struggling farms, and promised to promote a Europe-wide solution to another problem: large Supermarket chains form purchasing consortia to negotiate. food prices, which farmers say deprive them of a fair income. He also announced the establishment of a production cost index which “would serve as a floor price”.

“I stand alongside our farmers and French agriculture,” insisted Mr. Macron.

Before Mr Macron’s visit to the fair, Mr Attal had sought to head off protests by presenting a package of measures aimed at reassuring farmers that agriculture was a top priority for the government.

“We want to place agriculture among the fundamental interests of the nation in the same way as our defense or our security,” declared Mr. Attal.

But these promises did not seduce the thrones who descended on the living room early Saturday morning. The crowds were so dense and noisy that at one point the farmers and police officers appeared in danger of being crushed. People rushed over each other into hay-filled goat pens in part of a large room housing livestock.

Visiting the salon has been a political rite of passage for every French president since Jacques Chirac, in power from 1995 to 2007, often serving as a barometer of the ability to connect with rural France. Mr Chirac, seen as a gentleman farmer, was generally greeted warmly, while his successor Nicolas Sarkozy lost his temper with a protester who he told to “get lost, poor idiot” – a moment that would dog him for the rest of his mandate. presidency.

At the start of Mr Macron’s term, he was greeted in the room with an egg thrown near his face, but he continued his tour, meeting and greeting farmers in the room.

But Saturday’s massive clashes with police are unlike anything in recent memory. They suggest that the peasant movement is unlikely to die out any time soon.