On February 2, a day after the measures promised by French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, the farmers blocking the roads across the country began to remove the traffic obstructions. However, the protesters warned that the government should still fulfill its promises in the face of protests due to the high production costs and bureaucracy affecting the sector. On the contrary, farm workers in Belgium intensified their protest, and this Friday they blocked the border between their country and the Netherlands.
While in France, farmers are starting to lift the blockades, on the border between Belgium and the Netherlands, the protest is just beginning.
Across French territory, protesters gradually cleared the streets on February 2, in a vote of confidence in the measures announced by the government a day earlier, but they warned that they wanted “concrete” changes.
“We are not 100% satisfied. Measures are indeed being taken; it is always better than nothing, but we cannot allow things to continue like this. We are also waiting for written measures because we used to have a lot of nice words, but they were not respected, so you have to be careful, “Guillaume Chantereau, a cereal producer and chicken farmer in Nemours, Seine-et-Marne, in the north of the country, told Reuters.
After more than two weeks of mobilization and as the anger of farm workers spread to other European countries, on Thursday, February 1, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced some measures to help the agricultural sector.
Among them, Attal promised 150 million euros in fiscal and social assistance for this year and his so-called protection clauses, including one that vetoes “the importation of fruits and vegetables treated with pesticides, which is prohibited” in Europe. “This is the symbol of a new policy, a mirror clause,” he said.
Likewise, Paris promised a scrapped plan to increase diesel tax contributions on tractors; pesticide regulations were relaxed to stop the new set-aside rules; and so on with imported food safety checks.
The farm workers protested the increase in energy costs, the increase in the prices of inputs such as fertilizers, the increase in imports into the bloc of foods that are cheaper than those grown in the EU, and the stricter rules of the 27-country bloc for the sector, among other environmental measures, but protesters described it as bureaucratic and “suffocating.”
“The roadblocks have been lifted in the region. Some are still standing, but gradually, in the morning, they will be removed,” Jerome Despey, a senior official of the National Federation of Trade Unions, told the radio of ‘franceinfo’. of Farmers (FNSEA).
The return of farmers to their workplaces represents a break for the government of Emmanuel Macron, but the prime minister acknowledged on Friday that there is more to do. “Farmers are not giving us a free hand forever,” Attal stressed.
French farmers have stressed that their country’s government must act quickly and fulfill its promises.
Farmers blocked the border between Belgium and the Netherlands
Encouraged by the protests of its neighbors in France and after similar movements in Germany and Poland, at the end of 2023, the blockades began in Belgium on Monday, January 29, but this Friday, February 2, the blockades were extended to the boundary between the territory of Belgium and the Netherlands.
The border crossing to Antwerp, Belgium’s second-largest city and home to Europe’s second-largest port, is one of the blocked crossings.
This new demonstration began less than a day after the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, met with representatives of farmers in an attempt to calm the discontent.
The meeting took place shortly after the EU summit, which took place as hundreds of tractors blocked the streets adjacent to the European Parliament in central Brussels, and some protesters set fire to the barricades.
In addition, Belgian and Dutch protesters continued to prevent trucks from entering or leaving the port of Zeebrugge, which handles imports of cars and some fresh goods from the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo urged his farmers to lift the blockades. A still unsuccessful call.
Spain and Poland will participate in the mobilizations
Protests and massive roadblocks in connected European countries could spread further. Spanish farm workers have indicated that they will participate in mobilizations “in the coming weeks,” although on February 2, a small demonstration was recorded with about thirty trucks between the cities of Azuaga and Llerena, in the west of the country.
Quickly, the government of Pedro Sánchez tried to solve a situation similar to that of his neighbors, and this Friday, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food, Luis Planas, held a meeting with the agricultural associations COAG, Asaja, and RENT.
But the meeting failed to calm spirits, and farm workers indicated they would continue the call. Like their colleagues from other EU countries, in the territory of Spain, these citizens mainly demand to reduce the cost of production and bureaucratic procedures, which they consider “excessive,” to be able to work on land amid the push for the Union. to address climate change.
Meanwhile, in Poland, the Solidarity farmers’ union plans a general strike starting next Friday, February 9, with a blockade of border crossings between their country and Ukraine.
“We are running out of patience. The position of Brussels is unacceptable for our entire agricultural community. In addition, the passivity of the Polish authorities and the declarations of cooperation with the European Commission regarding the import of agricultural products and food in Ukraine will leave. We have no choice but to declare a general strike,” said the union in a statement.
In Greece, where there is also discontent in the agricultural sector, the government has announced it will extend a one-year special diesel tax rebate to help support farmers, whose demands also include cheaper electricity and faster loss compensation.