JOSSIGNY, France (AP) — Protesting farmers surrounded Paris on Monday with traffic-calming barricades and blocked highways leading to the French capital with hundreds of lumbering tractors and piles of hay bales, pressuring the government over the future of their shattered industry the effects of the Ukraine war.
The blockade of major roads around Paris – home to the Summer Olympics in six months – and protests elsewhere in France promised another difficult week for new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who takes office less than a month after taking office.
Protesters said Attal's attempts to adopt pro-farmer measures last week fell short of their demands that food production be more lucrative, easier and fairer.
Farmers responded on Monday by deploying convoys of tractors, trailers and even rumbling harvesters in what they described as a “siege” of Paris to win further concessions. Some demonstrators came with supplies of food and water, as well as tents to sleep on the barricades if the government does not abandon their site.
“We came to defend French agriculture,” said Christophe Rossignol, a 52-year-old farmer who grows organic orchards and other crops. Tractors at the barricade east of Paris were parked to form what looked like an ear of corn when viewed from the air.
“We go from crisis to crisis,” Rossignol said. Some vehicles had posters that read, “No food without farmers” and “The end of us would mean famine for you.”
The barricades highlighted the gap in economic and social opportunities between urban and rural France. Protesters said they felt ignored by government ministers, who they accused of rarely going to farms and getting their shoes dirty.
The government announced the deployment of 15,000 police officers, mainly in the Paris region, to stop any attempt by protesters to enter the capital. Officers and armored vehicles were also stationed at the Rungis market, the Paris center for fresh food supplies.
Paris region transport authorities reported blockages on the A1 highway north of the city's main international airport, on the A4 near the Disneyland theme park east of the capital and on other normally busy highways.
“Our aim is not to harass or ruin the lives of French people,” said Arnaud Rousseau, president of the influential agricultural union FNSEA, on RTL radio. “Our goal is to put pressure on the government to quickly find solutions to the crisis.”
Farmers in neighboring Belgium also set up barricades to stop traffic on some major highways, including into the capital Brussels. Most of the protests are taking place in the French-speaking part of the country.
A farmer from Tournai in western Belgium, Clemente Glorieux, said agricultural producers are “fed up.” At some point, rules and constraints are imposed on us, be they administrative or financial. This has been damaging for some time, so we are starting to ask ourselves questions about our future.”
Glorieux and farmers at barricades around Paris said they planned to continue protesting at least until Thursday, when leaders of the 27 EU countries are due to meet in Brussels for a summit on financial support for Ukraine.
“We have everything we need for food, barbecue facilities and a wall of hay to protect us from the wind. We have the equipment and we are coping well!” said Jean-Baptiste Benoit, farmer and protester from the Paris region.
The move in France is another expression of a global food crisis that has been exacerbated by Russia's nearly two-year war in Ukraine, a major food producer.
French farmers claim higher prices for fertilizer, energy and other inputs used to grow crops and feed livestock have reduced their income.
Protesters also argue that France's heavily subsidized agricultural sector is over-regulated and is being harmed by food imports from countries where agricultural producers face lower costs and fewer restrictions. Rousseau cited Ukrainian sugar producers as an example, saying their rapidly increasing exports to Europe since the Russian invasion in February 2022 were “unsustainable” for European competitors.
Taxi drivers with other complaints also organized protests against slow driving on Monday, worsening traffic chaos in the Paris area and other parts of the country. The authorities recommended that road users switch to public transport if possible.
Leicester reported from Le Pecq, France. AP journalist Mark Carlson from Halle, Belgium, also participated.