French farmers want to expand their protest actions. The farmers feel that they are being treated disproportionately hard and fear for their future. The French government calls it “unfair competition” and points the accusing finger at Spain and Italy.
The protests revolve around dissatisfaction with European environmental and climate policy. Under heavy pressure from farmers, the pro-European French government now points to one cause of the situation: “unfair competition” from EU partners such as Spain and Italy.
What is going on?
The European Union wants to be climate neutral by 2050. Greenhouse gases must be reduced by at least 55% by 2030. The Member States can decide for themselves how they want to achieve the European objectives.
France, the EU’s largest agricultural producer, decided, among other things, to abolish the tax benefit for farmers on diesel. The government has also required retailers to lower their prices to stimulate purchasing power. These are measures that put considerable pressure on the already troubled agricultural sector.
France imports a lot of fruit and vegetables from Spain
The newly appointed French Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal, questioned the functioning of the European Union in a speech on Sunday, January 28. He talks about unfair competition, because French farmers are bound by (phytosanitary) rules that other countries do not have.
France imports a lot of fruit and vegetables from Spain and Italy, because production in its own country is stuck due to environmental rules in French legislation. Attal assured in his speech that he would propose “more measures” to EU partners to protect French food sovereignty.
Border with Spain remains open
The French government is considered pro-European. Attal’s statements are therefore striking, because they may call into question the functioning of the internal market in the EU bloc. In a television interview, the French Minister of Agriculture said that a ‘border closure’ for Spanish or Italian products, as the extreme right demands, is not an option. France would be shooting itself in the fingers if neighbouring countries were to follow suit.
Many products are cheaper in Spain
During the farmers’ protests, unfair competition, especially from Spain, is a common complaint. In Spain, prices are lower and environmental standards are less strict than those in France. Despite the already proposed support, the farmers have still announced that they will block Paris from Monday, January 29 at 2.00 pm for “an indefinite period”.
The French agricultural sector claims that free trade agreements allow products from other countries to enter France at much lower prices. One of the most criticised agreements is between the European Union and the Mercosur economic partnership. Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay are part of this. It makes it painfully clear how cheaper products from abroad and the regulatory burden in France itself are putting enormous pressure on the French agricultural sector.