Paris squeezed by barricades as French farmer protests spread across Europe

French government expected to announce concessions to end demonstrations in which major routes around Paris were blockaded

Tractors block a road as farmers protest on a motorway near Jossigny, east of Paris. AFP
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Tractors and hay bales have blocked motorways around Paris as farmers continue their protest against rising costs, with ports and roads across Europe now facing similar rallies.

The French government is expected to take new measures on Tuesday in an attempt to address farmers’ concerns.

Protesters encircled Paris with traffic-snarling barricades on Monday, using hundreds of tractors and mounds of hay bales to block major roads leading to the French capital that will host the Olympic Games in six months. They came prepared for an extended stay, with tents and reserves of food and water, as the demonstrations continued on Tuesday.

The government announced a deployment of 15,000 police officers, mostly in the Paris region, to stop any effort by the protesters to enter the capital. Officers and armoured vehicles also were stationed at a hub for fresh food supplies in the capital, the Rungis market.

Farmers in France, Germany, Poland and Romania have been demonstrating for weeks over what they call excessive red tape, high fuel costs and unfair competition resulting from liberal EU trade policies.

The protests have spread into several countries in Europe as concerns escalate over the EU’s environmental policies and cheap food imports.

Belgian farmers plan to block access roads to the Zeebrugge container port, the country's second largest, from Tuesday, for at least 36 hours, media in Belgium reported.

The roadblock could last until Wednesday evening. Traffic near the Dutch border was also held-up on Tuesday morning, by a tractor convoy heading towards the port city of Antwerp.

"Police services have received information about an action at the Zeebrugge port," a port authority spokesman said. He said it was not clear what the action would entail.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo was set to meet farmers' associations on Tuesday.

The Belgian protest movement was boosted by the outrage in France.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal again met union leaders late on Monday after concessions he made in the previous three days failed to bring an end to the unrest.

“We have a system that doesn’t work,” Patrick Meyer, a 35-year-old farmer camped on the outskirts of Paris, told BFM TV.

“We have our backs against the wall ... we’re determined to stay until there’s a response.”

Mr Meyer said he had driven his tractor more than 470km from the north-eastern French region of Alsace.

Farmers have been choking roads across the country to protest over higher production costs, stringent regulations imposed from Brussels and what they see as unfair competition from abroad.

France is the EU’s biggest agricultural producer, accounting for close to €100 billion ($108 billion) annually, or about 18 per cent of total output.

The newly appointed Prime Minister was due to deliver a speech to parliament later on Tuesday, during which he was expected to set out priorities and reform plans for the months ahead, though any announcement is likely to be overshadowed by the protests.

Farmers protest across Europe - in pictures

So far Mr Attal has promised to respond to concerns about competition and the transfer of farm properties. He has also pledged to reverse a plan to raise taxes on farming fuel and to issue big fines to companies that do not respect rules on price negotiations. Yet this has failed to bring an end to the disruption.

Farmers have also called on French President Emmanuel Macron to intervene in Brussels. Government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot said he would raise their concerns on the sidelines of a meeting of European leaders in the Belgian capital on Thursday.

She added that France has asked the European Commission to reverse rules on fallow land and has the backing of 22 member states.

Updated: January 30, 2024, 11:46 AM