The French government managed to shut down a two-week agricultural protest that threatened to paralyze Paris and other cities. The tractors began this Friday to remove the blockages that have been hampering traffic on motorways across France for more than a week, but threaten to return if the government’s promises end up on empty paper.
It is a victory for the new prime minister, the young Gabriel Attal, who was facing his first crisis since President Emmanuel Macron appointed him in early January. It is also a victory for the farmers, who have obtained important concessions from Attal and his team – or rather, from Macron – the total cost of the measures is estimated at 400 million euros – and which leaves them thinking that the mobilization was ne is worth.
At the same time, the government’s measures to quell rural anger come at an environmental cost, according to leftists and environmentalists. They criticize, among other decisions announced Thursday, the suspension of the plan Ecophytewhich planned to halve pesticide use by 2030 compared to the 2015-2017 period.
According to the Minister of Agriculture, Marc Fesneau, it is just a matter of “reviewing some aspects [del plan Ecophyto] and to simplify them.” But the decision, along with others aimed at easing the burden of environmental regulations on French farmers, sends a worrying signal, environmentalists say.
In the midst of a climate emergency, according to this argument, the main victim is the environment. Critics say it satisfies farm unions often accused of promoting intensive and polluting agribusiness.
“For 15 years we have been promised a reduction in the use of pesticides and for 15 years nothing has changed,” Marine Tondelier, national secretary of the Europe Ecology/Greens party, told the France 2 network. “There are 15 years of delay for the health of the French, 15 years of delay for biodiversity. What do we say to the sick?”, she added.
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The wave of protests in the French countryside, which began in mid-January in the southern region of Occitania and then spread to the rest of France, has won the support of an overwhelming majority of French people, up to 90%, according to polls. On the highways, despite obstructing traffic, the farmers received applause from motorists and generally enjoyed benevolent treatment from the police.
All political parties – including environmentalists, black beast of much of the sector – have tried to show their closeness to farmers. And of course the government, which finally managed to keep the movement under control. The unknown is for how long.
Even though lockdowns around Paris and major cities were lifted this Friday, minority unions want to keep up. The president of the FNSEA, the largest and most influential agricultural organisation, Arnaud Rousseau, warned: “If we are not considered, if everything turns out to be smoke, we will return.”
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