Can we expect more French farmer blockades as new law debated?

Farmers have said they are ‘yet to be convinced’ by proposals in the bill going before MPs

Farmers blockaded roads earlier this year in protest at industry conditions
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Farmers in France have warned that the government’s new agriculture bill, which is set to begin debate in parliament, does not go far enough, three months after historic farmer blockade protests.

The Assemblée nationale will debate the bill tomorrow (May 14). The law is set to offer a number of measures to ‘appease’ farmers’ grievances, including making it easier to manage farm regulations, a rollback on certain environmental sanctions, and new processes on farming and water projects.

The 19-article text is based around three main points: 

  • Training a new generation of farmers, at the forefront of changing food supply

  • Breathing new life into the government’s policy of setting up and managing farms

  • Securing and simplifying the farming framework

Farmers ‘not yet convinced’

But the president of major farming union la FNSEA has said that “overall” the bill - whose full title is the Projet de loi d'orientation pour la souveraineté agricole et le renouvellement des générations en agriculture - does not appear to go far enough.

“The points on setting up and running farms are a step in the right direction. But as far as food sovereignty and the major interests of agriculture are concerned, it's not enough. The government still has to convince farmers,” he told Le Parisien.

Farmers have already criticised what they see as the slow pace of change.

It comes after farmers held protests and blockades in Paris in February, during the Salon de l’Agriculture at the Porte de Versailles. In a bid to address grievances, President Macron received farmers and industry professionals more recently, on May 2, ahead of the forthcoming debate on the new bill.

Blockades lasted through much of January, culminating in the deployment of 15,000 police and gendarmerie in Paris on the weekend of Friday, January 26 to Sunday, January 28.

Protests took place across the country, with roadblocks and rolling barricades everywhere from Ile-de-France to Normandy, and Provence.

The FNSEA has now said that farmers are remaining especially “vigilant” to ensure that the “promises made at the peak of the crisis finally become reality”. 

Read also: Travel disrupted around France as farmers blockade Paris and Lyon 

Continued opposition

In its defence, the government has said that of the 70 commitments to farming and agriculture made by Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, “91% have already been made or are at an advanced stage, and 9% have been precisely scheduled”.

However, it has faced significant pressure on both sides of the environment debate. Its pesticide reduction plan, Ecophyto 2030, has been changed considerably due to pressure from farmers, but environmental campaigners now say that the bill will go far enough to improve diversity.

Read more: Pesticide poison victims in France asked to join legal action 

The government looks set to face opposition throughout the project. Already, its plan for a new farming land fund, the Groupement foncier agricole d'investissements, has been rejected by a parliamentary committee.

However, Minister for Agriculture Marc Fesneau has said that he is confident that the measure - and the wider agricultural bill - will pass successfully in the House. He even said that he has “confidence in parliament to take up this bill and make it even better”.