Attal also promised to limit administrative hurdles for farmers by halving (from 4 to 2 months) the delay to launch a legal action against authorizations for farm works such as the expansion of a barn.

He also pledged to increase existing financial support to farmers and also to speed up the disbursement of cash under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Attal said French President Emmanuel Macron will push to exempt French farmers from rules requiring them to set aside part of their arable land to foster biodiversity. France will put the subject on the agenda of a meeting of EU leaders scheduled for next week in Brussels, according to Attal.

The protests are the first major political challenge for the new 34-year-old prime minister, having started almost immediately after he was appointed.

Macron and his Cabinet members have tried to portray themselves as sympathetic to the farmers as Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally attempts to capitalize on the discontent ahead of June’s European election. A poll showed 82 percent of those surveyed backed the farmers’ protests. But only 17 percent thought the government had been up to the task in its handling of the situation.

“We don’t want to depend on others for our food,” Attal said on Friday, urging public authorities such as school canteens to buy French food. He reiterated France’s opposition to the EU-Mercosur trade deal and argued that free-trade deals are often ruled by “the law of the jungle,” maintaining that they don’t protect French farmers enough.

Earlier Friday, French Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire met with farmers and retailers. The ministers promised to better enforce existing laws that ensure farmers are paid fairly by retailers and threatened to hit companies and supermarkets that don’t respect them with fines of up to 2 percent of their turnover. Attal said the government will soon announce three fines under those rules. 

In the meantime, protests continue to spread, with new road blockades all over the country from the Franco-Spanish border to the outskirts of Paris, and increased violence as illustrated by the burning of a government building in the city of Narbonne during one of the demonstrations. 

End

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