PARIS — France’s two major farmers unions announced they would lift country-wide blockades Thursday, shortly after the prime minister introduced new measures aimed at protecting their livelihoods that they described as “tangible progress.”
However, farmer activists who have snarled traffic along major highways around Paris said they would stay put at least another day to see the government commitments in writing, and both unions said they would closely monitor any government implementation.
“We don’t want to hear words of love. What we want is proof of love,” said Thierry Desforges, a farm union member at road blockade of the A6 highway in Chilly-Mazarin, south of Paris.
Thousands of French farmers have been demonstrating for a couple of weeks across the country in protests over low earnings, heavy regulation and what they call unfair competition from abroad. Similar protests also have extended across Europe, including at the European Union headquarters in Brussels.
Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, whose earlier promises to address farmers’ issues had failed to quell the French protests, announced a new set of measures Thursday.
They included tens of millions of euros in aid, tax breaks and a promise not to ban pesticides in France that are allowed elsewhere in Europe — which French farmers say leads to unfair competition. Attal also said France would immediately ban imports from outside the EU that use a pesticide banned in the bloc.
Arnaud Rousseau, president of France’s biggest farmers union FNSEA, and Young Farmers union President Arnaud Gaillot said at a news conference later Thursday that they were calling on their members to suspend the protests.
“We have been heard on a number of points, with tangible progress,” Rousseau said, though both unions said they would give keep a close eye on whether the government implements its promises by June.
“We call on our members to suspend the blockades,” Gaillot said.
Attal’s speech earlier Thursday came as hundreds of angry farmers driving heavy-duty tractors created chaos outside the European Union’s headquarters, demanding leaders at an EU summit provide relief from rising prices and bureaucracy.
“The question is currently being asked throughout Europe: Is there a future for our agriculture? Of course, the answer is yes,” Attal said.
At road blockades across France, protesters watched the speech on smartphones and televisions they had set up.
Attal promised there would be no new pesticide ban “without a solution” and said no pesticides would be banned in France that are authorized elsewhere in the EU. Also, Attal announced that France was banning, starting immediately, imports of fruits and vegetables coming from outside the EU that have been treated with Thiaclopride — an insecticide currently banned in the bloc.
France will propose the creation of a “European control force” to combat fraud, he said, particularly regarding health regulations, and fight against the import of food products that go against European and French health standards.
Attal also reaffirmed France would remain opposed to the EU signing a free-trade deal with the Mercosur trade group. “There is no question of France accepting this treaty,” he said.
The government’s goals with the newly announced measures are “to give food its value back” and “to boost farmers’ income, to protect them against unfair competition and to simplify their daily life,” he said.
Attal also announced 150 million euros ($162 million) in aid to livestock farmers and a decrease in taxes on farms being transferred from older generations to younger ones.
Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau, speaking after Attal, announced a 2 billion euro ($2.16 billion) package to make loans for those who are setting up as farmers.
The French government has also doubled the numbers of controls to sanction food industrial groups and supermarkets that don’t comply with a 2018 law meant to pay a fair price to farmers. The fine can reach up to 2% of sales revenues to companies that don’t comply.
At the Chilly-Mazarin blockade, Damien Greffin, a FNSEA representative, said farmers still need time to “better analyze the measures” as some appeared to him “a bit deceptive.”
Desforges, a fellow FNSEA member, remained cautious about proposals that concern the EU because “we know how Europe works, the countries still need to agree.”
Regarding domestic proposals, “we really need to wait and see if they are turned into law,” Desforges added.
Oleg Cetinic and Helena Alves in Chilly-Mazarin and Michel Euler in Argenteuil contributed to the story.