GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 831, 1 February 2024

France: Farmer protests continue despite government measures
Padmashree Anandhan

In the news
On 30 January, following continued protests across France, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal reiterated the announced measures, including opening of an aid scheme for livestock, doubling support to those farmers in the Brittany region, and a schedule for payment under the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) by 15 March. Attal stated: “…there must be a French agricultural exception.” He affirmed, “…the commitment of the president of the Republic to a new tax cut of EUR two billion.”

On 29 January, farmers once again blocked eight points of major highways following two weeks of protest across France using tractors. In response, France’s Minister of Interior, Gérald Darmanin, asked the police forces to show restraint and warned farmers not to block key spots including Paris's Charles de Gaulle, Orly airports and the Rungis international wholesale food market in the south. Close to 15,000 police and gendarmes were deployed to prevent the spreading of the protests in Paris. 

Issues at large
First, the problem of the EU’s CAP plan. France’s Common Agricultural Policies (CAP) in 2021 was approved in July 2023 by the European Commission. As per the plan, fair income and competitiveness were promised through payments per hectare and allocation of EUR 3.5 billion additionally to small and mid-sized farms. With the droughts in place, delay in the reform and financial package with unpaid subsidies has become one of the key causes of high costs for agricultural products leading to the protests, and the subsequent stalling of progress towards resilient agricultural practise. The emergency measures announced by Attal on simplifying technical procedures, ending fuel taxes on farm vehicles, and assurance to not sign the European free-trade deal became ineffective.

Second, criticism against environmental regulation. Farmers have long been criticised for not being environment-friendly. According to the report in France 24 published in February 2023, the food industry contributed to 25 per cent of the greenhouse emissions. The emissions recorded were mainly from the use of fossil fuels for transportation, the use of machines in agriculture and food processing industries, and nitrogen fertilisers. Since then, France has insisted on opting for a transition towards sustainable agricultural practices to reduce the carbon footprint. France has taken a few steps, including reducing herd sizes in 2021, as part of its National Low-Carbon Strategy for agriculture and to make agriculture practise more climate resilient. However, farmers face a larger burden without enough subsidies.

Third, protest against the unfair foreign competition. Besides environmental regulation, French farmers compete against farmers from Belgium, Poland and Brazil. According to a report by France 24, “France imported more than one chicken out of two consumed in 2022 from abroad.” The farmers highlighted that the products produced across the world, that were made in France, continue to dominate due to cheaper rates and strict standards of less pesticide, sequestering carbon, allotting more land for solar panels and four per cent of arable land to conserve biodiversity. Additionally, the French farmers claimed that they are produced with no compensation for the high cost incurred. 

In perspective
First, pressure on the government to act on the delay. The protests which started on 18 January have been prolonged for two weeks, inflicting pressure on the government. This has pushed Macron’s administration to restart the pledged reforms and bring back the tax cuts and subsidies, fearing potential food shortages and a supply block. Another reason behind the government’s rapid response and negotiation with the farmer unions to control protests is the European Parliament elections, where Macron’s party is facing challenges from the far-right National Rally. 

Second, the agricultural crisis triggered by the war. Similar to other European countries such as Germany, Belgium, Poland and the Netherlands, France also faces challenges in allotting funds to the agricultural sector. The key trigger to the protests in France was the economic crunch caused by the war in Ukraine. Since the war began, the French government has prioritised ensuring energy supply, strengthening defence within, and providing aid to Ukraine, thus leaving out the agricultural sector. This has led to increased costs of production and strict regulations, making it difficult for farmers to operate, considering that they did not receive any profits or compensations.

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