Why are French farmers so highly effective? – DW – 02/26/2024 | EUROtoday

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The annual Paris International Agricultural Show is normally a platform for French politicians to point out voters how down-to-earth they’re. Literally.

But this 12 months’s version, which started on Saturday, will first be a litmus take a look at of whether or not current concessions by the authorities are sufficient to calm French farmers’ anger.

Judging by the hostile reception that French President Emmanuel Macron acquired on the primary day of the honest, it appears the farmers need the federal government to do extra to help them. Macron was greeted with boos and whistles by indignant farmers, who’ve been demonstrating for weeks towards falling incomes and an excessive amount of crimson tape.

The authorities’s response to those protests highlights how highly effective the farmers are, opines Faustine Bas-Defossez, director for nature, well being and setting at Brussels-based European Environmental Bureau, a community of 180 NGOs throughout 40 nations. Agriculture accounts for less than about 1.6% of France’s GDP.

“The authorities had been cracking down on other protest movements such as the one last year against a recent pension reform using batons and tear gas, but they kept their distance when 12,000 farmers blocked roads across the country for weeks,” she informed DW.

The police solely intervened on uncommon events. For instance, when dozens of protesters marched into the worldwide wholesale market Rungis south of Paris intending to dam it.

French riot police intervene farmers gathering of the Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris this morning, on the sidelines of Emmanuel Macron's visit during 60th International Agriculture Fair
French farmers proceed to place strain on the French authorities amid falling incomes and an excessive amount of crimson tapeImage: Mathieu Pattier/MAXPPP/dpa/image alliance

Farmers’ energy has structural causes

“The farmers’ political power is well enshrined at all levels — through the numerous agricultural chambers but also because many local politicians are farmers themselves,” the environmentalist mentioned.

Pierre-Marie Aubert, director of agricultural and meals coverage on the Paris-based suppose tank, Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), even speaks of “co-management.”

“The government has been determining agricultural policies jointly with France’s biggest farmers union FNSEA for the past 50 years — it’s called ‘agricultural exceptionalism’,” Aubert informed DW, including that comparable methods have been in place in different nations corresponding to Germany.

The knowledgeable says France’s restricted variety of about half one million farmers, in line with authorities figures, and the sector’s clear consultant construction have been enjoying within the farmers’ favor. Other protest actions carry collectively giant sections of the inhabitants and lots of unions which are troublesome to coordinate.

“Plus, farmers have always been powerful as they own the land, which is the State’s foundation,” he burdened.

“The government also draws political legitimacy from being able to feed its population. And we could see how important that is during the food riots in about 40 countries around 2007,” Aubert mentioned.

He added that the COVID-19 epidemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine starting in 2022 highlighted the significance of getting a robust agricultural sector to be much less depending on provide chains.

That’s why, the federal government rapidly gave in to quite a few calls for by the farmers, making further guarantees simply forward of the commerce honest.

Paris pledged much less crimson tape, additional subsidies for struggling winemakers, and higher implementation of laws supposed to ensure farmers honest wholesale costs. The authorities axed tax hikes for tractor gasoline and suspended measures geared toward lowering the usage of pesticides.

Macron defends farmers’ trigger in Brussels

President Macron additionally took the farmers’ case to Brussels. For instance, he obtained an easing of an EU rule that requires farmers to maintain 4% of their land uncultivated to guard biodiversity.

Paris has additionally opposed the conclusion of a commerce deal between the EU and the South American commerce bloc Mercosur, which has stirred fears of unfair competitors amongst farmers.

Following France’s objections, the EU Commission now says “the conditions for the conclusion of the Mercosur agreement are not met.”

David Cayla, lecturer for economics at Angers University and member of the left-wing collective “The Dismayed Economists,” says the free-trade deal is certainly a foul concept.

“In South America, wages and environmental standards are considerably lower,” he informed DW. “Plus, farms are bigger and yield more produce with relatively little work input, which gives farmers there a competitive advantage.”

Therefore, the economist is in favor of an “agricultural exception” much like the one granted to France’s cultural sector — an concept additionally not too long ago introduced ahead by the federal government.

The nation’s “cultural exception” implies particular protectionist measures with the federal government arguing that cultural merchandise should not be handled the identical method as commodities.

“Such a system could protect our agricultural sector while laying the foundations for local food networks,” Cayla mentioned.

But Alan Matthews, professor emeritus of European agricultural coverage within the Department of Economics at Dublin-based Trinity College, thinks the Mercosur deal is helpful.

“It would only allow for reduced import tariffs on a limited amount of agricultural imports and it’s important in the current tense geopolitical situation, for example regarding Russia, to have trade deals with other parts of the world,” Matthews informed DW.

EU agriculture ministers meet amid farmer protests

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‘A extra sustainable system is required’

Agricultural knowledgeable Aubert thinks the federal government siding with the farmers on the matter is one more signal of how cautious politicians are of their affect. Especially forward of June’s EU parliamentary elections.

“The new Dutch farmers’ party might help the country’s far-right to power, Germany’s far-right has been piggybacking recent farmers protests and it’s not for nothing that French far-right politician Marion Marechal-Le Pen, former presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s niece, went to see farmers protesting in Brussels,” he underlined.

Bas-Defossez says that is a risk to European democracy.

“French farmers are trying to ride the wave of anti-EU sentiment — although they are the EU Common Agricultural Policy’s (CAP) biggest beneficiaries,” she mentioned.

“They are making the EU’s Green Deal, which is supposed to ensure a transition towards a more sustainable society, a scapegoat even though the deal has yet to have any concrete impact on the agricultural sector,” Bas-Defossez added.

Harriet Bradley from the Brussels-based suppose tank, Institute for European Environmental Policy, shares her considerations.

“We understand the social and economic challenges farmers are facing, but it’s short-sighted to give in to their demands for fewer environmental regulations instead of creating a longer-term sustainable perspective that makes them more resilient to extreme weather,” Bradley mentioned.

Aubert says one situation must be met to pave that method.

“We need to set up a system where it becomes economically worthwhile to produce in a more eco-friendly way — otherwise, there’s just no incentive to change ways,” he burdened.

The article was initially written in German