Attal promises new price law to appease angry French farmers, thousands protest in Greece

Attal promises new price law to appease angry French farmers, thousands protest in Greece


Govt wary of growing support for the far right ahead of European Parliament polls in June

Follow on
Follow us on Google News

PARIS (Reuters) – The French government will prepare by the summer a new law to better safeguard farmers' income and strengthen their position in negotiations with retailers and consumer goods companies, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday.

Attal made the announcement on updating the so-called Egalim law in his latest speech aimed at easing tensions with angry farmers, ahead of the annual Salon de l'Agriculture farming trade fair that starts this weekend.

While some local grievances vary, farmers’ protests, also seen in other European countries including Belgium, Greece and Germany, have exposed tensions over the impact on farming of the EU's drive to tackle climate change, as well of opening the door to cheap Ukrainian imports to help Kyiv's war effort.

In France, farmers had largely suspended their protests, following weeks of actions that included blocking highways, after Attal on Feb 1 promised new measures.

But the farmers, who say they are not being paid enough and are choked by taxes, green rules and face unfair competition from abroad, have been pressing the government to show the first results of the emergency measures before the trade fair.

President Emmanuel Macron and his government are also wary of farmers' growing support for the far right ahead of the European Parliament elections in June.


Thousands of farmers from across Greece descended on Athens' central square on Tuesday, parking tractors in front of parliament in their biggest protest yet over rising costs.

Police estimate at least 8,000 farmers with 130 tractors joined the protest on Syntagma square, echoing grievances at similar demonstrations in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland and Italy.

Read more: Police use force to stop Indian farmers 'Delhi Chalo' march

"This is our answer to the Greek government," a 53-year-old farmer who gave his name as Grigoris said. "We're not afraid, and we won't retreat."

The farmers said they planned to remain in the square overnight.

Greek farmers dealing with high energy prices and production costs say they have also been hurt by climate change-driven weather, with unpredictable flooding, extreme heat and wildfires making their work ever more hazardous.

They have been staging brief blockades of roads and border crossings for weeks while their unions have been negotiating with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' conservative government for more financial aid and other relief measures.

The farmers said they drove to Athens to pile pressure on the government, which has so far offered discounts on power bills and a one-year extension of a tax rebate for agricultural diesel to the end of 2024.

They are also demanding more compensation from natural disasters along with tax-free diesel fuel and protection against foreign competition.

"We want the government to give us solutions to our problems. We're not just fighting for our own survival, we're fighting for everyone," said farmer Spyros Hatzis. "We're selling cheap, and the consumer is buying at a great cost"

As night fell, horns blared and protesters lit flares.

A banner on a tractor with a black coffin attached to its front read: "Livestock farming died today." Others held up funeral wreaths to symbolise what they say is a dying sector.

"The government called us to a meeting, taunting us, without giving us anything," said Kostas Zarkadoulas, head of the farmers' union of Stylida in central Greece.


Earlier on Tuesday, at the last toll booths some 30 km outside the capital, farmers waved Greek flags and cheered each other on as the convoy passed through.

"No farmers, no food, no future," a banner read.

"The time has come for all of us to finally wake up," said Thanasis Symeonidis, a farmer at the rally. "Our problems will reach their doorstep too."

On Monday, the government reiterated that it was willing to discuss a more permanent future tax rebate scheme, but had no fiscal room for further concessions this year.

"We have nothing more to give," Mitsotakis said during an interview with Greek Star TV on Monday evening.

"I think farmers acknowledge this and know very well that the government has probably exceeded even their expectations, especially on the power bills issue."

The farmers vowed to push for more. "We believe something will come of this. Otherwise we'll have to harden our stance," said Vergos Vergou, a protester in Athens.