France’s PM offers concessions to farmers after protests

France’s new prime minister Gabriel Attal faced a wave of protests from angry farmers on Friday. He announced a series of concessions to try to end the crisis.

In an attempt to appease the angry farmers who have been staging massive protests across the country, France’s new prime minister Gabriel Attal announced several concessions on Friday.

He promised to lower fuel prices, simplify regulations, and prioritize agriculture. His announcement came after thousands of farmers blocked major highways in and out of Paris, demanding better pay and fairer food prices.

“I have heard your message loud and clear,” he said during a visit to a cattle farm near the Spanish border. “Agriculture will be our top priority,” he vowed. Attal addressed the farmers’ complaints, which include high farm diesel costs, delayed EU subsidies, excessive red tape, and import competition.

He unveiled “10 immediate measures” to support them, such as cancelling the planned fuel price hike. He also said that he would appeal to the EU to change the rules that force farmers to leave some of their land unused.

He reiterated that France would oppose an EU free-trade agreement that farmers fear would flood the market with cheap products. However, his concessions failed to satisfy some of the farmers. “What was announced tonight is not enough,” said Alexandre Plateau, a representative of the FNSEA, the main farmers’ union, on Franceinfo radio. “Only a few demands have been met.”

Laurence Marandola, a spokesperson for the Peasant Confederation union, said on RTL radio that Attal’s concessions were “very largely insufficient”. “We will stay mobilized. It’s not just roadblocks, we will use different forms of protest, on the roads, on roundabouts, in front of supermarkets,” she said.

Earlier on Friday, the A1 motorway that connects Paris to Lille and Belgium was obstructed by tractors and hay bales. The FNSEA said that about 55,000 people took part in the nationwide protests.

One of them was Christophe Beeuwsaert, a cereal and milk farmer in the Oise region north of Paris. He told AFP news agency that the protesters planned to encircle the city and move closer in, increasing the pressure. “They (the politicians) say they understand us, they know what we’re going through, but it’s all lies,” he said. “They sit in their leather seats, in their heated or air-conditioned offices… they don’t see the impact of all the decisions they make on us.”

The protests in the south of France continued, with the main road between Lyon and the Spanish border also blocked. “We have been protesting for a week and we still have no answers. We don’t want words, we want actions,” said Sebastien, a young farmer, at a blockade near Toulouse’s Blagnac airport.

The farmers’ protests are the first major challenge for Attal, who took office earlier this month. They started in the south west of France last week, where farmers set up camps in the middle of several key motorways.

On Tuesday, a woman farmer and her 12-year-old daughter died after a car crashed into a roadblock south of Toulouse. Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau called it a “tragedy for all of us”.

The protests in France coincide with similar ones in other European countries, such as Germany and Belgium.

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