French farmers’ unions call for protesters to disperse

Two of France’s prominent farming unions have appealed for calm, urging demonstrators to disband following the government’s announcement of measures to address their concerns.

Two of France’s major farming unions have appealed to protesters engaged in tractor blockades across the country to disband. The call comes after the government introduced measures aimed at addressing the discontent that has manifested across Europe, with similar protests witnessed in Belgium, Portugal, Greece, and Germany.

While the specific local grievances vary, the overarching unrest highlights tensions related to the impact of the EU’s climate change initiatives on farming and the introduction of inexpensive Ukrainian imports to support Kyiv’s war effort. Farmers across Europe express concerns about the stifling effect of green regulations, taxes, escalating costs, and unfair competition from international markets.

In a culmination of frustration, Brussels witnessed farmers hurling eggs and stones at the European Parliament, igniting fires, and setting off fireworks. The protesters demanded increased support from EU leaders gathered for a summit, emphasizing their opposition to what they perceive as excessive and burdensome regulations imposed by the European Commission.

Amid escalating tractor protests in France, the government sought to de-escalate tensions by promising increased protection for farmers. Measures include better import control and additional financial aid. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal acknowledged the shared concerns across Europe regarding sustainable production, climate change mitigation, and avoiding unfair competition from abroad.

In response to the government’s commitments, leaders of French farming unions, Arnaud Rousseau and Arnaud Gaillot, urged protesters to end blockades. However, they cautioned that alternative forms of protests would persist, and a return to the streets remained a possibility if the government failed to deliver on its promises.

The surge in farmer protests across Europe coincides with the upcoming European Parliament elections, where far-right factions view farmers as a significant constituency. European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen and Belgium Prime Minister Alexander De Croo met with the European farmers’ lobby COPA-COGECA in Brussels, expressing acknowledgment of the farmers’ concerns and commitment to addressing administrative burdens.

Despite initial disturbances, the pockets of unrest diminished over the course of the day. Farmers have already secured certain concessions, including proposals to limit farm imports from Ukraine and relax some environmental regulations. However, disruptions to the supply chain were evident, with reports of blocked roads in Portugal, protests in Greece, and Belgian supermarket chain Colruyt facing distribution center blockades.

The protests have taken a toll on the economic landscape, with transport firms in France experiencing a significant reduction in revenues. In Belgium, the port of Zeebrugge saw a backlog of 1,400 trucks due to farmer blockades, underscoring the widespread impact of the demonstrations on various sectors.

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