Whether you come from Lille (A1), Strasbourg (A4), Troyes (A5), Lyon (A6), Orléans (A10) or Rouen (A14), it was impossible on Monday afternoon to enter in Paris by these highways. And even more so to get out of it. All day Monday, the standoff between the French state and farmers continued to escalate to the point of partially blocking the capital. Even if Rungis could still be accessed, the largest food market in Europe was carefully guarded by armored vehicles specially requisitioned for the occasion. In the evening, 200 tractors stopping at Limoges nevertheless intended to go there the next day.
Last Friday, the Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal, may have canceled the planned increase in the tax on non-road diesel (GNR) and announced some administrative simplification measures, the anger of French farmers is far from having subsided. For them, the account is not there. If blockades have been lifted in Haute-Garonne, where the Prime Minister went on Monday, the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions (the main agricultural union) and the Young Farmers have established new ones in Paris, but also in Lyon, Marseille and Montpellier.
According to the authorities, 30 departments are affected by various actions. The movement is for the moment peaceful, the police – 15,000 members of the police have been mobilized – not intervening in front of farmers who are often cheered by passers-by. According to polls carried out just a few days ago, 89% of French people supported farmers.
“The discomfort is deep”
“It’s an anger that comes from afar,” explains Antoine Jeandey, author of a book on suicide among farmers (You left me alive, I read) and editor-in-chief of the WikiAgri site intended for them. A study carried out in 2017 by Public Health France on data from 2007 to 2017 stated that a farmer committed suicide every two days in France.
“The discomfort is deep, but it is not recognized,” says the man who is also an elected official from the small town of Chaudon, in Eure-et-Loir. 18% of farmers live below the poverty line. We no longer know how many commit suicide, but we know that there are many. However, this is not the first time that French farmers have risen up. But each time, we are not interested in their main demands, which concern their basic income. We are interested in temporary demands, such as the GNR tax or administrative problems. »
In ten years, the country has lost 20% of its farms. There are now less than 500,000 farmers in France and half are due to retire within the next ten years. A quarter of the French herd has melted in 30 years and a quarter of the pig population since 1998. A harsh assessment for a country which not so long ago was the leading agricultural power in Europe.
“For a long time, the slogan of French farmers was: “Agriculture cannot be relocated!” », recalls Antoine Jeandey. “But today, we’re almost there. What happened to agriculture is what happened to the textile industry. There are regions of the world that produce for the whole world, while elsewhere, agriculture seems to be disappearing. »
While it was practically self-sufficient in these areas just a decade or two ago, France today imports 70% of its fruits, 30% of its vegetables and 50% of its chickens. She removed the milk quotas from which Quebecers were inspired. Jeandey emphasizes that the application of European standards is very unequal from one country to another in the Union. Some, like Spain or Poland, are much more lax than France in terms of health and ecological standards.
And food sovereignty?
An observation confirmed by economist Nicolas Baverez, according to whom we are witnessing nothing more and nothing less than a form of “euthanasia” of French agriculture. “We have imposed an absolutely unsustainable economic model on French agriculture,” he said. We wanted to develop high-end organic agriculture on a national level for which there is no demand. We had a good level of agriculture which in 20 years went from 2e rank at 5e rank of world exporters. All this for a model of degrowth where public money is used to reduce production for the benefit of countries which produce at lower costs. »
The European Farm to Fork strategy was established by the European Commission as part of the European Green Deal, and voted on by the Strasbourg Parliament. By 2030, it plans to reduce the use of pesticides by 50%, the use of chemical fertilizers by 20%, and sales of antibiotics for farm animals by 50%. Europe goes so far as to specify that 25% of agricultural land will have to be dedicated to organic farming and that 4% will be fallowed. To comply with these new directives, Ireland has decided, in exchange for 600 million euros, to slaughter 200,000 cows over 3 years.
“It’s a real disaster,” says Nicolas Baverez. According to him, by considering agriculture as “a barbaric relic of the old world”, France is as responsible as Europe for this catastrophe. “Understand that of the 454 molecules authorized in Europe in agriculture, France only authorizes 309! What happened to agriculture in France was what happened to nuclear power. We thought that, in tomorrow’s world, it no longer had any interest and that we could sacrifice our food sovereignty. Have we already forgotten that during the COVID Pandemic, we ran out of medicines and even masks because we transferred everything abroad? The first human right is still to feed oneself. »
After the farmers of the Netherlands and Germany, it is the turn of those of France to question Brussels’ agricultural policy. All this just over four months before the European elections. We also learned that Emmanuel Macron was going to meet on Thursday in Brussels with President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal is due to deliver his general policy speech in which he is expected to announce new measures for farmers.
Will this be enough? Antoine Jeandey is convinced that this anger will not die out soon. “We can’t predict anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this lasts in one way or another until the Agricultural Show on February 24. »
With Agence France-Presse