Home Featured French farmers block highways and aim for Yellow Jacket redux
French farmers block highways and aim for Yellow Jacket redux

French farmers block highways and aim for Yellow Jacket redux

by host

AGEN, France — A group of farmers brewed coffee in an improvised camp surrounded by tractors and haystacks along the edge of France’s A62 highway near this small city in southwestern France.

Empty beer and pastis bottles, the remnants of the previous night’s revelry, were collected in a shopping cart not far from a humming generator.

This was one of dozens of blockades set up this week by farmers across the country — and if the demonstrators have their way, this will just be the beginning.

“We need the French people to join us,” said the eldest of the group, a 60-year-old wheat farmer who wished only to be identified as Laurent — in order, he said, to protect his family’s privacy.

Farmers in France are demanding the government take action to reduce regulation and taxes on fuel they say are making margins in their sector razor thin. They want other French workers — including truckers and medical workers — to join in. They’re aiming to start a movement like the massive Yellow Jacket protests that rocked France in 2018.

Laurent said he is contemplating retirement — but neither of his two children is willing to take over the family business.

“When you watch your father struggle to break even,” he said, “there’s no way you would want to follow in his footsteps.”

Despite the illegality of some of the blockades, French police have not moved in to break them up. The farmers enjoy widespread support.

The movement is backed by 82 percent of people in France, according to one poll; seven out of 10 people said they support the blockades and would oppose police intervention.  

This is likely the reason why French President Emmanuel Macron has sounded sympathetic to the farmers. Earlier this month, he vowed to help them make the transition to more environmentally friendly practices and promised to ensure “they are never left without a solution.”

Macron’s cabinet members have also voiced understanding for the farmers; the president is considering a pro-farmer lead candidate for his liberal party ahead of the European election in June.

By showing his support, Macron is likely also hoping to ward off a challenge from the far right, which is seeking to co-opt the farmer protests.

Julien (left) and Benoît (right) | Victor Goury-Laffont/POLITICO

More radical protests have been staged in cities across France, many of which have been dominated by members of Coordination rurale, a farmers’ union close to the French far right. Those protestors, many of whom wear signature yellow hats, have set hay and tires on fire in front of government buildings and banks.

The farmers at the highway blockade near Agen said they were not affiliated with Coordination rurale.

“It’s essential that we expand beyond unions,” said Julien Burgalasse, a 39-year-old farmer. He then looked at his phone, receiving a piece of news that he quickly shared with his fellow farmers: Local bakers would be joining the farmers to protest high energy costs.

“Frustration is everywhere,” Burgalasse said. “I know it’s hard for people to come join us when they’re struggling to make ends meet, but the government should watch out: Anger grows with empty stomachs.”

Coordination rurale spokesperson José Perez talks to reporters during a protest in Agen | Victor Goury-Laffont/POLITICO

Source link

You may also like