Protesting farmers in more than 1,500 tractors flood Paris streets

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 03, 2015 8:00 AM

By Sybille de La Hamaide

PARIS (Reuters) - Protesting French farmers converged on Paris in more than 1,500 tractors on Thursday to demand more government action to stem a crisis in the meat and dairy sectors that has left some farms near bankruptcy in the European Union's top agricultural producer.

The demonstration, which slowed morning traffic on motorways around the French capital, follows a summer of protests by farmers exasperated by falling prices. It comes ahead of an EU farm ministers meeting on Monday to discuss the troubled livestock industry.

The government announced a relief package in July in a gesture to farmers who blocked roads, including access to the Mont Saint-Michel tourist site, and dumped manure outside supermarkets.

The FNSEA, France's largest farmers' union which called for Thursday's protest, says the measures are insufficient to help farmers facing the effects of a Russian embargo on Western products as well as long-term problems linked to cheaper foreign competition and the negotiating power of supermarkets.

"We came to express our dismay. We can't live from our job anymore," said Patrice Jaouen, a 43-year-old dairy and vegetable farmer leading a tractor convoy from Brittany after driving 588 km (365 miles) since Tuesday.

"We don't want short-lived subsidies, we don't want public money, we want an overhaul of the system."

French farmers say they are hampered by higher social charges and stricter environmental protection rules than their EU neighbors.

Tractors converged on Paris' Place de la Nation, a regular venue for demonstrations, ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Manuel Valls and a delegation of farm union officials.

Police counted 1,580 tractors, 91 buses and 50 cars carrying farmers. The FNSEA put the figure at 1,733 tractors.

"We need visibility for our future, a decent revenue to support our families," livestock farmer Philippe Nivost, 55, said, alongside the two cows he brought from central France.

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The Socialist government has promised fresh measures will be announced on Thursday to address farmer concerns.

France has found some support from fellow EU members in southern Europe for extra action to help dairy farmers, given a severe market downturn.

But European Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has warned against going back on market reforms, and French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll failed on Monday to agree on specific proposals with his German counterpart ahead of the EU council.

(Additonal reporting by Lucien Libert, Chine Labbe and Gerard Bon; Writing by Gus Trompiz)