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France: Farmers unions call for end to roadblocks

French farmers have blocked highways in protest at regulations and prices

French farmers have blocked highways in protest at regulations and prices

Protesting farmers in France have been encouraged to take their tractors off the roads and lift roadblocks after a union chief said the government had responded to their grievances over pay, tax and regulations.

Arnaud Gaillot from the Young Farmers (JA) said Thursday that promises of financial assistance and other help had been secured from the government and that it was time for a change of strategy.

"We have decided to suspend the roadblocks ... and move to a new form of mobilization," Gaillot said at a press conference alongside Arnaud Rousseau, chief of the biggest rural union FNSEA, which is closely allied to the JA.

"We say we should transform the action, by telling people they need to go home because there are also people who have jobs to do, there are also people who have been away from home for a very long time," Rousseau said.

Europe's farming sector is facing a major crisis and needs to "profoundly" change its rules, French President Emmanuel Macron said in Brussels.

'We won't hesitate to resume blockades'

After almost two weeks of disruptive protests across France, tensions have eased somewhat after new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and his Cabinet promised cash payments, an easing of regulations and protections against cheaper foreign goods - the government's second wave of concessions in a week.

FNSEA chief Rousseau hailed "real progress" and said Attal was "listening ... to try and understand what's at stake for us, inviting us in, talking, discussing and announcing emergency measures."

He said he expects to see "initial results" by the time the flagship Salon de l'Agriculture trade fair opens at the end of this month.

"If these markers are not met, we won't hesitate to resume a general mobilization," added JA boss Gaillot.

Still frustration with the European Union

Whether the farmers still blocking dozens of highways and logistics hubs across the country would follow the call to stand down remains to be seen, especially with many demands still not met at the European level.

Protests continued in Brussels in neighboring Belgium on Thursday, even as European Union leaders met to secure a deal on aid for Ukraine.

The EU has, in recent days, announced a temporary exemption from rules requiring some farmland to be left fallow, one of the French farmers' main grievances.

The bloc could also limit imports of some Ukrainian agricultural products, on which tariffs were dropped following Russia's 2022 invasion.

France's government hailed the moves as a victory for its lobbying, but they were insufficient to satisfy all the farmers.

Union boss Rousseau criticized the "deafness" to farmers' woes at the European level and lambasted a "growing lack of understanding between a technocratic structure walled into its Brussels offices and the reality of what we experience on our farms."

mf/sms (Reuters, AFP)