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

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The annual Paris International Agricultural Show is often a platform for French politicians to indicate 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 latest concessions by the authorities are sufficient to calm the anger of French farmers.

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

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

French riot police intervene farmers gathering of the Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris
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

“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.

Structural causes behind farmers’ energy

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

Pierre-Marie Aubert, director of agricultural and meals coverage on the Paris-based assume tank Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, 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 programs had been in place in different nations reminiscent of Germany.

French farmers sustain the strain

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The skilled mentioned France’s restricted variety of about half 1,000,000 farmers, in keeping with authorities figures, and the sector’s clear consultant construction have performed within the farmers’ favor. Other protest actions convey collectively giant sections of the inhabitants and plenty of unions which might be troublesome to coordinate.

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

“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,” mentioned Aubert.

He added that the COVID-19 pandemic 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 shortly gave in to quite a few calls for by the farmers, making extra guarantees simply forward of the commerce truthful.

Paris pledged much less crimson tape, further subsidies for struggling winemakers and higher implementation of laws supposed to ensure farmers truthful wholesale costs. The authorities additionally axed tax hikes for tractor gasoline and suspended measures geared toward decreasing using 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 European Commission now says “the conditions for the conclusion of the Mercosur agreement are not met.”

David Cayla, lecturer for economics at Angers University in western France and member of the left-wing collective The Dismayed Economists, mentioned the free commerce deal is certainly a nasty 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.”

EU agriculture ministers meet amid farmer protests

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Therefore, the economist is in favor of an “agricultural exception” just like the one granted to France’s cultural sector — an concept additionally just lately 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 means as commodities.

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

But Alan Matthews, professor emeritus of European agricultural coverage at Dublin-based Trinity College, thinks the Mercosur deal could be 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.

‘A extra sustainable system is required’

Agricultural skilled Aubert thinks the federal government siding with the farmers on the matter is yet one more signal of how cautious politicians are of their affect, particularly 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, the niece of former presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, went to see farmers protesting in Brussels,” he underlined.

Environmentalist Bas-Defossez mentioned 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 biggest beneficiaries,” she mentioned.

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

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

“We understand the social and economic challenges farmers are facing, but it’s shortsighted 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,” mentioned Bradley.

Aubert mentioned one situation must be met to pave the means.

“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 mentioned.

The article was initially written in German.