French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced a string of concessions regarding French farmers in response to their mass protests.
As a result, farmers’ representatives are calling off the demonstrations.
On February 1, recognising farmers’ demands, Paris said it will implement “safeguard clauses” to restrict the import of specific products and initiate a “phase of massive controls” under the EGalim law, designed to protect agricultural workers’ income.
The legislation aims to strengthen the balance in commercial relationships between suppliers and distributors.
The Government’s assurances will also see it enshrine the principle of “food sovereignty” in national law, counter the “excessive changing of standards” and enhance the regulatory framework to “improve oversight” regarding products of French origin.
In addition, the Government will provide an annual €150 million in fiscal and social support for farmers from this year, with Attal saying they needed “specific support”, in consultation with the sector
Increased tax on non-road diesel (RNG), a primary spark for the demonstrations, was also cancelled.
French farmers are entitled to a partial refund on that tax but it has steadily declined over the years. Since the beginning of 2024, they have been paying a rate of 6.71 euro cents per litre – 2.85 cents more than last year.
That increase, which was supposed to have been gradually brought in over six years to 2030, particularly incensed farmers and Attal has now announced its outright cancellation.
Tax rebates on the RNG will be deducted at the time of purchase and no longer after the fact on receipt. “It’s a simplification and cash-flow measure,“ the Prime Minister said.
— Gouvernement (@gouvernementFR) February 1, 2024
Economy minister Bruno Le Maire also spoke of strengthening controls on supermarket chains and that no contract between distributors and manufacturers “will escape scrutiny on fraud”.
Le Maire said it was “unacceptable” that the term “of French origin” was regularly “circumvented” by “a certain number of industrialists”.
France will also look at improved labelling regarding the origin of products at the European level.
The announcements were followed by the statement that “10,000 controls on the French origin of products” would be put into place and that those who commit fraud in relation to such could face fines of up to 10 per cent of their sales as producers or distributors.
Agriculture minister Marc Fesneau said the funding assistance for young farmers’ start-ups would rise from €13 million to €20 million.
The Government also wants to enshrine “the objective of food sovereignty in law”. To that end, it plans to issue an “annual report”, the first of which will be released ahead of the Paris Agricultural Show at the end of February.
It will also defend France’s interests in Brussels on phytosanitary products, which relate to plant health via various measures and practices designed to control the spread of pests and diseases.
Following the example of Italy, France will now also be more strict on synthetic so-called meat. It wants it to be defined at the European level in a “clear” manner.
According to Attal, such a product does not “correspond to our conception of French food”.
Fesneau also promised that the decree on such, updated after being initially rejected by the courts, would soon be published to “fight against those who use terms that do not apply to anything other than meat”.
Attal said it was time to “put an end to all naivety” regarding Europe and “the arrival of standards we no longer desire.”
He announced an “exemption from the obligation to replant” meadows for farmers. That was to “better protect our meadows while avoiding completely absurd situations where farmers are forced to reinstall meadows even though they have stopped their livestock”, Attal said.
The so-called Ecophyto plan on chemical pesticides, much hated by farmers, was also postponed.
The transfer of agricultural holdings, the difficulty of which was a big problem for the wine sector, will be made easier and pensions for farmers will be “reworked and improved”.
To facilitate the hiring of seasonal workers, Fesneau announced that the agricultural industry would now be recognised as a “critical” sector.
Additionally, the salary for these seasonal workers will be increased “from 1.2 to 1.5 times the minimum wage”.
Among other measures, the Government will also work on a new water plan, as both droughts and floods have devastating effects on farmers.
With Paris meeting most of the demands of the farmers, the major unions called on members to suspend their blockades.
Union leaders said they “welcomed the progress”, though there remained some “doubts” on the promises made, citing what they called “the growing incomprehension between a technostructure walled up in its offices in Brussels and the realities”.