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Why Are French Farmers Protesting?

By Reuters
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Why Are French Farmers Protesting?

French farmers are blocking roads across the country to demand government action to address numerous grievances, as protests in the European Union's agricultural sector spread.

Here are some of the issues that have prompted the growing protest movement and how the government could respond.

Why Are Farmers Protesting?

Farmers in France, the EU's biggest agricultural producer, say they are not being paid enough and choked by excessive regulation on environmental protection.

Some of their concerns, like competition from cheaper imports and environmental rules, are shared by producers in the rest of the EU, while others such as food price negotiations are more specific to France.

Costs

Financially, farmers argue that a push by the government and retailers to bring down food inflation has left many producers unable to cover high costs for energy, fertiliser and transport.

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A government plan to phase out a tax break for farmers on diesel fuel, as part of a wider energy transition policy, has also been a flashpoint, in an echo of tensions in Germany.

Imports

Large imports from Ukraine, for which the EU has waived quotas and duties since Russia's invasion, and renewed negotiations to conclude a trade deal between the EU and South American bloc Mercosur, have fanned discontent about unfair competition in sugar, grain and meat.

Large imports are resented for pressuring European prices while not meeting environmental standards imposed on EU farmers.

Environment, Red Tape

On the environment, farmers take issue both with EU subsidy rules, such as an incoming requirement to leave 4% of farmland fallow, and what they see as France's overcomplicated implementation of EU policy, such as in restoring hedges and arable land as natural habitat.

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Green policies are seen as contradicting goals to become more self-sufficient in production of food and other essential goods in the light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Rows over irrigation projects, as water resources become a focus in climate debate, and criticism about animal welfare and pollution in agriculture have heightened feelings among an ageing French farmer population as being disregarded by society.

What Measures Could The Government Take?

The government, under pressure to defuse the crisis ahead of European elections in June and the annual Paris farm show next month, has postponed draft legislation on attracting more recruits to farming to add other measures.

The government has promised to simplify procedures for farmers. That could mean reduced waiting times for subsidy payments or farm project approvals, or easing paperwork and audits on environmental compliance.

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The government could drop its plan to phase out the diesel tax break, though it has already softened the measure by staggering the move over several years and offering to re-invest the funds in farming.

Some changes would need EU approval, such as changing the rule on fallow land, and farmers warn any concessions may come too late for this year's production plans.

As in previous farming crises, the government could offer emergency aid. It has already pledged funds for wine producers hit by falling consumption and farmers affected by floods in the north and a cattle disease in the south, but may announce more money and quicker payouts.

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