Like a medieval peasant army besieging the capital, six giant columns of tractors have invaded Paris to demand government help for French farmers threatened by low prices for pork and milk.
An estimated 1,700 tractors, occupied the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris while a delegation of farmers’ leaders negotiated with the government. The Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, promised a €1bn (£729m) package of immediate aid – almost doubling an emergency package promised six weeks ago. He also pledged further state aid to the dairy, pork and beef industries in the coming years.
The tractors, which had trundled for hundreds of miles from Brittany, Normandy, the Auvergne, Lorraine and Alsace, caused huge tail-backs on the Paris ring road this morning.
Despite the claims of widespread penury in the dairy and meat sectors of French agriculture, many of the tractors on display in the Place de la Nation appeared to be new.
The demonstration was partly a show of strength within the divided French farming industry. The once dominant union, Fédération Nationale des Syndicats d’Exploitants d’Agricoles (FNSEA), organised the protest to reassert its waning influence over agriculture in the country.
Many smaller French producers, including some FNSEA members, refused to take part. They had booed and pelted the union’s leaders during wildcat protests earlier this summer.
Small farm unions accuse the FNSEA of being dominated by agri-business interests and continuing to promote a failing pattern of large-scale, intensive, high-production and low-quality farming.
This summer’s collapse of pork and dairy prices in other countries, including Britain – has been blamed on: overproduction across the world; the ending of 30-year-old EU dairy production quotas; reduced Chinese imports, and Russia’s embargo on EU food, in retaliation against western trade sanctions.
On 22 July, after a series of blockades by farmers at tourist sites and attacks on supermarkets and government offices, the French government announced its initial package of emergency aid. Mr Valls told farmers’ leaders that in addition to increasing that package to €1bn he would put in place a one-year moratorium on debt payments and freeze social security contributions for the most fragile producers. He also promised a further €2bn in state aid to the dairy, pork and beef industries over the next two years. He said: “The farming world is in deep despair. We hear your anger. But the profession must also come together and put aside its petty quarrels.”
The president of FNSEA, Xavier Beulin, told the demostrating farmers: “We have been heard.” His announcement was, however, greeted by muted applause, jeers and angry hoots on tractor horns. There were shouts of “sell-out”, “resign” and “there is going to be an explosion”.
Dairy farmers said that the increased aid package did nothing to restore their prices and profits. They had called for curbs on allegedly unfair competition from Germany, Spain and Italy and an end to EU sanctions against Russia.
Hervé, 53, a dairy farmer from lower Normandy, said: “We don’t want subsidies. We want fair competition. We are being offered a sticking plaster on a wooden leg.”Reuse content