French protesting farmers reportedly vowed a “siege of the capital” of Paris on Monday afternoon, rejecting government concessions intended to appease their movement against European Union climate measures they blame for crippling the agriculture industry, while the war in Ukraine also drives up food prices.
France’s interior ministry on Sunday, meanwhile, mobilized roughly 15,000 police officers in response, and tanks from the French Armed Forces were seen on highways on Monday, establishing road blocks in an apparent effort to diffuse a potential “blockage” of tractors. Farmers reportedly set their sights on the city’s hub for fresh food supplies, Rungis International Market, along the southern edge of the capital, known as “the belly of Paris,” according to the BBC. This comes as Paris is set to host the Summer Olympics in about six months.
Speaking to French TV station BFM TV, grain farmer Benoit Durand said the goal is to paralyze the country and “starve Parisians.”
“We are holding a siege in Chartres, one hour away from Paris. It’s part of the blockade … the goal is to put pressure on the government,” he said, according to the BBC. “It will happen naturally. Parisians are going to be hungry. The goal is to starve Parisians. That’s it.”
The traffic blockages that farmers were starting to put in place on major highways heading for the French capital – and continued protests elsewhere in France – signaled another difficult week for new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, less than a month into the job.
The farmers’ movement, seeking better remuneration for their produce, less red tape and protection against cheap imports – opposing the European Union’s negotiations with Mercosur, a South American trade bloc – has spread in recent days across the country, with protesters using their tractors to shut down long stretches of road and slow traffic.
They’ve also dumped stinky agricultural waste at the gates of government offices.
Farming protests have stretched across Europe in recent weeks, and Dutch farmers – reportedly galvanized by a far-right party – set off fireworks outside the agricultural minister’s home and clashed with police in protest of a government proposal to buy out the biggest polluting farms near vulnerable nature spots in a bid to drastically slash nitrogen emissions, according to the BBC. If farmers refused to sell as part of the plan to reach ambitious climate targets, the Dutch plan included potential forced removals.
Attal met with farmers in southern France on Friday, offering a first round of concessions, such as maintaining the low tax regime on farm diesel, but the farmers vowed to keep protesting.
“Our goal isn’t to bother or to ruin French people’s lives,” Arnaud Rousseau, president of the influential FNSEA agricultural union, among those leading the protests, said on RTL radio.”Our goal is to put pressure on the government to rapidly find solutions out of the crisis.”
The snowballing movement of contestation in France is another manifestation of a global food crisis worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a major food producer.
French farmers lament that war-related higher prices for fertilizer, energy and other inputs they use to grow crops and feed livestock have eaten into their incomes, even making farming untenable for some. Protesters also complain that France’s massively subsidized farming sector is over-regulated, hurt by red tape and food imports from countries where agricultural producers face lower costs and fewer constraints.
Broadcaster BFM-TV showed tractors blocking the Paris-bound lanes of a major highway that heads toward the capital from the southwest.
“The state wants our death,” read a banner on one of the lumbering vehicles.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.