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French farmers blockade main highways into Paris

Falling incomes and increasing red tape lead to protests in France and, as the blockades spread across the Continent, will the UK join them?

Outraged French farmers parked hundreds of tractors across motorways into Paris in protest. They claim they are being hit by falling incomes, environmental regulations, increasing volumes of red tape and competition from imports. The “siege” may encourage British farmers to protest against similar treatment, according to countryside commentators. 

With further protests taking place across Europe, French authorities say 15,000 police were mobilised to stop tractors entering Paris and other cities on 29 January. Thousands of farmers moved to block major highways to the capital as similar protests took place in Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands. While farming unions have called the protest “a siege of Paris”, secondary roads to the city have remained open. 

Farmers say their aim is to stop food deliveries reaching supermarkets — something officials have warned them not to do. Police have been given orders not to intervene and, as ST went to press, there have been no major clashes. 

The head of France’s biggest farmers’ union, the National Federation of Agricultural Holders’ Unions (FNSEA), Arnaud Rousseau, said the goal was to force the government to find a quick resolution to the stand-off. Mr Rousseau said the protest movement would continue everywhere in France “with the very concrete objective of having emergency measures announced” — especially surrounding food prices. 

In response to the blockades, French government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot said new measures would be announced, following the additional governmental support for farmers whose animals fall ill, which was announced last week. French president Emmanuel Macron will attend meetings in Brussels to discuss the agriculture industry and EU-wide support for farmers. 

Conservationist, farmer and author Jamie Blackett told ST: “Finally, the farmers’ protests across Europe have become so loud that the BBC has had to cover them. The same agrarian unrest is palpable in the UK and the issues are the same — unfair competition, too much bureaucracy from an overmighty state and falling incomes. If anything, there is more reason to take to the barricades here: the democratic deficit in the countryside is greater. 

“No French government would dare ban foxhunting and wage a culture war against its rural minority. There have been similar demonstrations already in the Highlands and it will not be a surprise if farmer protests spread across the UK.”