A few months before the European elections, the French government, which fears a conflagration, is trying to react to the growing anger of farmers. From the Netherlands to Romania via Poland and Germany, farmers are stepping up actions against tax increases and the European Green Deal. All against a backdrop of inflation and competition from Ukrainian imports.

With the blocking of the A64, France is not spared from the movement. “From today and throughout the week and as long as it is necessary, a certain number of actions will be carried out,” warned Arnaud Rousseau, president of the FNSEA, on France Inter on Monday January 22. “What farmers want is to restore a form of dignity to their profession, it is to talk about questions of income and competitiveness,” he underlined. On Friday, the union announced that it was studying the possibility of a national protest movement in the coming weeks, before the Agricultural Show scheduled in Paris from February 24 to March 3.

The Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal, was to receive in Matignon, Monday January 22 at 6 p.m., representatives of the FNSEA, the leading agricultural union, and the president of the Young Farmers. “We will see at the end of this evening’s meeting [with Gabriel Attal] if we call for lifting the blockage and depending on this meeting: can this blockage call for others? », declared for his part the president of the Young Farmers, Arnaud Gaillot, on France 2.

Since the fall, the anger of the peasant world has been growing, fueled by a deep “fed up” in the countryside, which has its source in a feeling of “abandonment” by public authorities in a difficult context of climate transition. .

Starting from Tarn, a peaceful movement to overturn municipal signs has spread almost everywhere in France, even if the heart of the protest is located in Occitanie. A way of saying that “we walk on our heads”, a slogan taken from Narbonne on the Belgian border.

The tone has hardened in recent days with, since Thursday evening in Occitania, the blocking of the A64 motorway but also rallies in front of administrations or on roundabouts reminiscent of the revolt of the “yellow vests”. Rural Coordination is planning road radar coverings for this week. The Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, declared that “no evacuation of the blockages by the police [was] planned at this stage because there is no damage”.

“The movement is led by local federations, it is not as spontaneous as the milk producers’ strike movement in 2009. On the ground, we see people from the Peasant Confederation, the Rural Coordination or the FNSEA », observes François Purseigle, sociologist specializing in agricultural worlds. For him, “there is not one agricultural world but agricultural worlds, with small artisans and captains of industry and wage gaps which range from 1 to 5”. “However, with the slogan “We walk on our heads”, the farmers of Tarn have managed to find a common denominator, which brings the agricultural world into the streets,” he adds.

A little everywhere in Europe, “these movements have the same ferments: the growing incomprehension between the reality of practicing the profession of farmer on the ground and centralized administrative decisions, whether in Brussels or in European capitals, which create a major incomprehension and ultimately a sort of revolt,” explained Arnaud Rousseau on January 10 during his greetings to the press. Taking the example of hedges, he explained: “Why don’t farmers make them? Because there are fourteen regulatory texts”, even though everyone recognizes the virtues of hedges against soil erosion, for biodiversity, etc.

“Physical hardship has gradually given way to moral hardship which is due in particular to the enactment of rules and standards that are increasingly onerous to bear. (…) At some point, the cup overflows,” said Etienne Gangneron, president of the Cher Chamber of Agriculture, to the Minister of Agriculture, Marc Fesneau, on Saturday.

The unions thus denounce the government’s slowness in implementing the promised administrative “simplification”. “The farmers who call us no longer even know what they have the right to do or not” and do not feel “properly supported in the face of climatic, geopolitical and health challenges”, explained to Agence France- Press (AFP) Véronique Le Floc’h, president of Rural Coordination, the second largest agricultural union in France.

Hence the annoyance of the profession in the face of the successive postponements of the agricultural bill, promised more than a year ago by Emmanuel Macron and ultimately less ambitious than the “agricultural orientation law” initially announced. On Sunday, Marc Fesneau announced a new delay of “a few weeks”. The bill – which intends to promote succession in agriculture, a necessity at a time when the population of nearly 500,000 farm managers is aging – must now also be enriched with measures to simplify the millefeuille of agricultural regulations.

If France is the first beneficiary of the common agricultural policy with 9 billion euros in aid per year, its farmers contest the strategy of greening European agriculture. A central element of the European Union Green Deal, a legislative project aimed at halving the use of chemical plant protection products by 2030 (compared to the period 2015-2017) was rejected in the European Parliament at the end of November.

But farmers who were delighted with the renewal of the authorization of glyphosate fear to see the return of this project and intend to weigh in before the European elections in June.

French farmers also denounce Brussels’ refusal to extend into 2024 the derogation allowing fallow land to be cultivated (around 4% of agricultural land) while “the food tension caused by the war in Ukraine continues”.

Other “hot topics”: technical files on the preservation of meadows and a new European mapping of peatlands and wetlands which “would impact 0.3% of the usable agricultural area in European countries and up to 29% in France », including from the plains of Beauce, castigates the representative of the cereal growers, Eric Thirouin.

“The cost of energy has exploded, the costs of inputs have increased, as have those of labor or animal feed. The war in Ukraine disrupts flows with huge imports into Europe of cereals, poultry and sugar. It disrupts all sectors, it lowers prices,” Christiane Lambert, president of the Committee of Professional Agricultural Organizations of the European Union, explained to AFP. “Our children are served imported food in canteens that we are forbidden to produce in France,” she said.

Despite good yields, the fall in prices and the maintenance of high costs have reduced the income of cereal growers, who believe that we are “going into the wall” with the government’s new pesticide reduction strategy, Ecophyto 2030. “In in the South, we observe an accumulation of crises: economic, health, environmental. This is a lot for certain farms which are already weakened,” notes François Purseigle.

“No ban without a solution”, insists the FNSEA for its part, its mantra for pesticides, water sharing or the gradual increase in taxation on non-road diesel, “negotiated in responsibility” with Bercy, but for which Rural Coordination defends the maintenance of a tax niche.

The negotiation of free trade treaties (Mercosur), coupled with the imposition of restrictive measures, also fuels exasperation, underlines Christiane Lambert, even if the triggers may be different (“decline in livestock” in the Netherlands , “fuel taxation” in Germany…).

Under pressure, the government did not discover these tensions. In December, former Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne had already announced to the FNSEA and Young Farmers the abandonment of tax increases on pesticides and irrigation, to the great dismay of environmental associations and water stakeholders.

On January 19, the Minister of Agriculture, Marc Fesneau, promised financial support from the State for breeders whose cattle are affected by epizootic hemorrhagic disease, with the reimbursement to breeders of 80% of veterinary care costs linked to the disease and compensation of up to 80% in the event of the death of the animal for all outbreaks observed until December 31, 2023.

From Vendée, the Minister of Agriculture again demonstrated on Monday his desire to accelerate the construction of water reserves, described as “megabasins” by their environmentalist detractors.

But “we are faced with a protean malaise, which will be difficult to resolve with a single political response,” believes François Purseigle. “The challenge for farmers is to seek value: at a time when the President of the Republic is talking about “rearmament”, they feel disarmed in the face of manufacturers, supermarkets [large and medium-sized stores], but also in the face of to local populations who do not accept that they develop certain activities. They feel challenged on the subject of their professional identity. »

A malaise which the oppositions, the National Rally in the lead, intend to seize in the perspective of the European elections of June 9. “The interest of this movement is that it puts agriculture on the political agenda. But it is difficult to know what the impact will be at the polls, however, notes François Purseigle. Farmers are resigned, this could translate into abstention. Especially since they are not fooled by attempts at political recovery. »