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French farmers block roads, keep pressure on government

Farmers in France set bales of hay ablaze to partly block access to Toulouse airport in southwestern France and parked tractors across motorways near Paris as they lobbied the government for help to make a living from their work.

Farmers, who also want measures against cheap imports, are looking for more support from new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who will spell out his policy plans later today and from the agriculture minister, who is also due to make an announcement.

“Whatever happens, we are determined to go to the end,” farmer Jean-Baptiste Bongard said as crowds of farmers huddled together around small fires on a highway in Jossigny, near Paris, blocked by the tractors in the early hours.

“If the movement needs to last a month, then it will last a month,” said Mr Bongard, who took over the family business in July and finds it hard to compete with foreign producers who do not follow the same regulations.

A huge placard at the protest, “Let’s save agriculture”, was attached to one vehicle.

French farmers stop their tractors on the A16 motorway near L’Isle-Adam

In Longvilliers, also near Paris, both carriageways of the motorway were blocked with tractors, and bales of hay, with other traffic being diverted up a slip road as a queue of cars snaked into the distance.

The regional prefect said that farmers had blocked the main access to Toulouse airport, but that people could still gain access via nearby parking lots. BFM TV said stacks of hay and tyres had been set on fire at a roundabout in front of the airport.

Farmers in France, the EU’s biggest agricultural producer, say they are not being paid enough and are choked by excessive regulation on environmental protection.

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The protests has been going on for more than a week, but increased in intensity yesterday, leading up to an EU summit on Thursday when they hope their action and those of other farmers in Europe will grab the attention of the politicians focused on aid for Ukraine and the bloc’s budget.

The French protests follow similar action in other European countries, including Germany and Poland, ahead of European Parliament elections in June in which the far right, for whom farmers represent a growing constituency, is seen making gains.

Farmers in France, the EU’s biggest agricultural producer, say they are not being paid enough

In Belgium, farmers angry with EU environmental policies and cheap imports, plan to block access roads to the Zeebrugge container port in Belgium from today.

In France, the government, wary of seeing the protests escalate and with an eye on the European elections, has already dropped plans to gradually reduce subsidies on agricultural diesel and promised to ease environmental regulations.

The government will also push its EU peers to agree to ease regulations on fallow farmland. President Emmanuel Macron is set to discuss it with EU officials and leaders in the margins of the summit in Brussels.

Mr Attal, who will spell out his policy plans as new prime minister in front of the National Assembly, is set to mention the crisis, but officials said more concrete steps should be unveiled by Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau.

Franck Laborde, who heads the AGPM association of maize producers, said an increase in environmental rules “needs to stop”.

One particular point of concern, he said, were imports of cheap poultry from Ukraine, where farmers do not follow the same rules.

“We are opening our doors wide in Europe to Ukrainian production so that they can finance the war. This is not acceptable. Agriculture is being sacrificed on the altar of war,” he said.

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