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French Farmers Protest 2024: What Happened?

For the past two months, the French government has been restless with thousands of farmers flooding the streets over various grievances. The civil unrest spilled over to fellow European nations, sprouting uprisings in Belgium, Portugal, Germany, Greece, and Romania, only for a ceasefire intervention by the French Farmers Union.


Why are French farmers protesting?

France is the EU's primary agricultural producer. This does not mean; however, that the mass producer is without inadequacies, as farmers from voicing dismay over inadequate payment and burdensome environmental regulations. Concerns include competition from cheaper imports, environmental rules, and domestic issues like food price negotiations, arguing that government and retailer efforts to curb food inflation leave them unable to cover rising costs for energy, fertilizers, and transport.


Import pressures from Ukraine, amid waived quotas post-Russia's invasion, and EU-Mercosur trade negotiations also exacerbate the situation by birthing concerns of unfair competition and environmental standards disparity. The EU in itself is under fire due to expanding discontent with the body’s subsidy rules, including an incoming requirement to leave 4% of farmland fallow, complicated implementation of policies, and conflicts between green policies and self-sufficiency goals. Tensions rise over irrigation projects, animal welfare, and pesticide criticism, alienating an aging French farmer population.


Independent producers especially, proclaim that the traditional rural way of life is on the brink of extinction after being repeatedly suffocated by EU and French bureaucratic red tape. They advocate for equitable prices for their goods, the retention of subsidies on agricultural diesel, and financial support for organic farming.


Why are EU farmers protesting?

Although the protests in France carry nation-specific complaints, the rising backlash against the EU’s policies has transcended one country and united European farmers under one movement. The farming sector is responsible for 11% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. As per the body’s environmental efforts to go carbon-neutral by 2050, this 11% has become the target of legislators, which have set their satellites in overhauling their Common Agricultural Policy under the EU’s Green Deal. The revamped policy would obligate farmers to devote 4% of cultivable farmland to non-productive activities, which has received opposition outside France as well. Moreover, crop rotations and 20% fertilizer reduction will also become obligatory under the new policies.


The stance is that the new regulations will diminish the European farming sector’s competitiveness against agricultural imports. Farmers' union representatives told the Guardian they were “fed up in general” with “too much administration.” Olivier Devalckeneer from Fédération Wallonne d'Agriculture, the foremost professional association for the sector in Wallonia, Belgium, said: "We want a change; we want farming to be protected, not undermined."


The grassroots farmers' organization The European Coordination Via Campesina, told TIME that the discrepancies of EU’s expectations are what feed the rage. “On the one hand, [farmers] are being asked to farm more sustainably,” in the fight against the climate crisis. Still, the EU urges the sector “to keep producing as cheap as possible, which puts us in an impossible situation.”


Farmers outside France have also voiced discontent with not only the EU but their respective governments. Farmers in Germany are opposing a plan by Berlin to gradually eliminate tax benefits on agricultural diesel to balance the budget, claiming that doing so will force them into bankruptcy. Farmers in the Netherlands are rising in opposition to a law requiring a decrease in nitrogen emissions.



What will happen?

Even before the protests that first emerged in Occitania, France, made itself known and spread like wildfire, the movement was strong. On the night of January 18, two days after the initial protest that received no attention from the authorities, an Occitanian administration building was blown up by an explosion. The Comité Régional d'Action Viticole (CRAV), a radical organization of Occitan winemakers, later claimed credit for this deed.


As the movement snowballed into masses protesting outside the European Parliament Headquarters, the EU as well as national authorities called for measures in favor of the farmers. "To the farmers that are outside. We see you and we hear you," European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said. France announced the scrapping of diesel tax increases for farmers, and Belgium will be working on a proposal with the European Commission to reduce farmers’ administrative burdens. Paris is seeking concessions from its partners in amassing support for the waiver on the 4% land requirement. When EU officials met with farmers in Brussels, the sector had already secured a myriad of measures, such as the bloc's plans to restrict agriculture imports from Ukraine, and both Ireland and France’s rejection of signing the trade deal with the Mercosur group of South America without a revamp.


With positive responses rolling out, the unions have urged farmers to end the tractor blockades. However, the protests may not be over, as the head of FNSEA -France's biggest farming union- Arnold Rousseau expressed discontent with the pace of changes and hinted that the roadblocks may continue soon.


Works Cited

Mallet, Benjamin, and Sudip Kar-Gupta. “France Steps up Security as Paris Farmers’ Protest Looms.” Reuters, 29 Jan. 2024.

‌Conesa, Elsa. “‘The French Farmers’ Movement Doesn’t Really Have Any Similarities with the Yellow Vests’.” Le Monde.fr, Le Monde, 24 Jan. 2024.

‌Trompiz, Gus, and Sybille Hamaide. “Why Are Farmers Protesting in France and Other Parts of Europe?” Reuters, 30 Jan. 2024.

‌Astha Rajvanshi. “What to Know about the Farmer Protests in Europe.” TIME, Time, 2 Feb. 2024.

‌Reuters. “Head of French Farmers Union Says Protests Could Resume.” Reuters, 13 Feb. 2024.

‌Herman, Yves, and Marco Trujillo. “French Farmers’ Union Call for End of Blockades as Anger Spreads in Europe.” Reuters, Feb. 2024.

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