French farmers prepare tough welcome for Macron at farm show

By Thomson Reuters Feb 23, 2024 | 6:52 AM

By Sybille de La Hamaide and Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) – French farmers were back on the streets of Paris on Friday, warning President Emmanuel Macron that he should expect a difficult welcome when he opens a major farm show on Saturday, amid anger over costs, red tape and green regulations.

Dozens of tractors rolled into the French capital, loudly honking their horns. One tractor carried a sign that read: “Macron you’re sowing the seeds for a storm – be careful of what you reap.”

Farmers have been protesting across Europe, calling for better income, less bureaucracy and denouncing unfair competition from cheap Ukrainian goods to help Kyiv’s war effort.

French farmers had earlier this month largely suspended protests that included blocking highways and dumping manure in front of public buildings after Prime Minister Gabriel Attal promised new measures worth 400 million euros ($432.56 million).

But protests resumed this week to put pressure on the government to help them more and deliver on promises, ahead of the Paris farm show, a major event in France, which attracts around 600,000 visitors over nine days.

“Some farmers will try to stop the president (Macron) from entering the trade fair. And if he does get in, they will disturb his walkabout,” Jean Lefevre, who is a member of FNSEA, France’s largest farming union, told Reuters.

There will be tractors and some 2,000 farmers waiting for Macron at the fair, Lefevre said.

Farmers’ protests have spread across Europe, most recently in countries including Poland, Spain and the Czech Republic. The protests come as the far right, for whom farmers represent a growing constituency, is seen making gains in June’s European Parliament elections.

In another sign of how tense relations between farmers and the government still are in France, the head of FNSEA, Arnaud Rousseau, said that he would not take part in a big debate which Macron wants to hold at the farm fair on Saturday with farmers, food processors and retailers.

“As I speak, the conditions for a dialogue are not met … the tension is too great,” Rousseau told BFM TV/RMC radio after he discovered that pro-environment activist group “Soulevements de la Terre” was among the guests at the debate.

In an unusually detailed message on X, Macron’s office later said that the activist group had not been invited and that they had announced it by mistake.($1 = 0.9247 euros)

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, additional reporting by Stephane Mahe, Benoit Tessier, Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Ingrid Melander)