French farmers in tractors and trucks expanded their roadblocks, resulting in numerous traffic jams and a fatal accident, as unions urged the Government to address their demands for lower costs and regulation.
“We won’t lift the roadblocks as long as the Prime Minister does not make very concrete announcements … The time of talking is over, action is needed,” said Arnaud Gaillot, head of the Jeunes Agriculteurs’ (Young Farmers’) union on January 23.
Police said one woman was killed and two others were seriously injured as a car hit a roadblock in the Southwestern Ariege region on the same day.
The growing outrage, which has spilled over from neighbouring countries, comes as campaigning for European elections 2024 gains pace.
The protests mark the first major challenge for President Emmanuel Macron’s new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal.
Hours after union officials met Attal on the evening of January 22, new convoys of tractors set out in the night to block roads, including the A7 motorway in Southern France.
“Fed up with environment taxes” read a slogan sprayed in pink on a slurry tank blocking the highway in a picture published by French media.
“In this moment of high tension, I call on everyone to stay calm and reasonable,” Arnaud Rousseau, head of the FNSEA farmers’ union, told RMC radio.
French farmers are also protesting against price pressure from retailers determined to bring down food inflation, and against tightening environmental regulation – grievances that have triggered protests across Europe.
“We’re prepared for anything, we’ve got nothing to lose,” said Josep Perez, a protester interviewed by BFM TV at a roadblock in the Southwestern fruit-growing region around Agen, where traffic on the A62 motorway had been disrupted since yesterday.
Protesters in Agen’s city centre were shown throwing kiwi fruit at the local prefect’s office in footage posted on social media.
Macron is wary of farmers’ growing support for the hard-right ahead of the European Parliament elections in June.
Farming policy has always been a sensitive issue in France, the European Union’s biggest agricultural producer, where thousands of independent producers of meat, dairy, wine and other produce have a record of staging disruptive protests.
The Government has put an agriculture bill on hold, saying it wants to hear from farming representatives before including additional measures to support the sector.
When first talks with union officials on the evening of January 22 yielded no solid results, farmers across the country said they would stage more protests this week.