By Sudip Kar-Gupta and Tassilo Hummel
PARIS (Reuters) -French farmers in tractors and trucks expanded their roadblocks on Tuesday, resulting in numerous traffic jams as well as one fatal accident, as unions urged the government to ease its push for lower consumer prices and reduce environmental regulations.
“We won’t lift the roadblocks as long as the prime minister does not make very concrete announcements … The time of talking is over, action is needed”, said Arnaud Gaillot, head of the Jeunes Agriculteurs (Young Farmers) union.
The growing outrage, which has spilled over from similar agricultural unrest in neighbouring countries, comes as campaigning for EU elections gains pace, and is the first major challenge for President Emmanuel Macron’s new prime minister, Gabriel Attal.
Hours after union officials met Attal on Monday evening, new convoys of tractors set out in the night to block roads, including the A7 motorway in southern France.
“We’re prepared for anything, we’ve got nothing to lose,” said Josep Perez, a protester interviewed by BFM TV at another roadblock in the southwestern fruit-growing region around Agen.
Police said one woman was killed and two others were seriously injured as a car ran into a roadblock in the southwestern Ariege region.
France’s Agriculture Minister cancelled his trip to a EU ministers’ meeting in Brussels to travel to the site.
“To our farmers: I asked the government to be fully mobilised to deliver concrete solutions to the difficulties you face,” Macron said on social media platform X, adding the Ariege region accident was upsetting to everyone.
Farming policy has always been a sensitive issue in France, the European Union’s biggest agricultural producer, where thousands of independent producers of meat, dairy, wine and other produce have a record of staging disruptive protests.
Macron is wary of farmers’ growing support for the far right ahead of the European Parliament elections in June with Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party shown as leading in the polls.
The farming lobby says the outrage is mainly fuelled by the government’s recent efforts – spearheaded by Finance and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire – to fight inflation, urging retailers and food giants to cut consumer prices.
Patrick Benezit, the head of the FNB cattle farmer union, on Tuesday told a news conference the resulting pressure on suppliers is being passed on to farmers, forcing some to sell below real costs, which would go against a law aimed at guaranteeing fair prices.
The European Commission published a report on Tuesday, stating that at the EU level 63 measures worth 2.5 billion euros ($2.72 billion) had been taken between 2014 and 2023 to support farmers and producers hit by production losses, price reductions, rising costs and broken supply chains from the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine or animal diseases.
($1 = 0.9203 euros)
(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Tassilo Hummel, Jean-Stephane Brosse and Gus Trompiz, additional reporting by Piotr Lipinski; writing by Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Andrew Heavens, William Maclean and Sharon)