Mass tractor protest in Paris over plunging farm income
More than 1,000 tractors rolled into Paris on Thursday as farmers attempted to clog up the capital's roads in protest at their plummeting incomes.
Tractors were lined up at the busy Nation roundabout in the east of the city, but Parisians heeded calls to avoid using their cars and traffic was less congested than normal during the morning rush hour.
Farmers on their tractors have been descending -- slowly -- on the capital from all corners of France, angry over the falling prices for their farm produce which they blame on foreign competition, Russian sanctions, and a raw deal from local supermarkets and distributors.
Agriculture has been struggling across Europe, and protests are also expected in Brussels ahead of an EU meeting on the subject on Monday.
It has taken many of them a week to reach the capital, travelling at an average speed of 35 kilometres (22 miles) an hour.
"What we're asking for today is three or four centimes more on a burger," said Xavier Beulin, head of France's leading farmers' union FNSEA, told iTele.
The first tractors to arrive came from the northwestern region of Brittany, a major producer of milk and pork, flying banners with slogans such "No food without agriculture" and "Don't abandon your farmers".
FNSEA said they were expecting 1,733 tractors as well as dozens of cars and buses. Police said they had counted more than 1,300 tractors on the roads into Paris.
"Milk has dropped to 320 euros per tonne from 340 euros last year, and it's still falling," said Christian Ribet, who had arrived on a tractor from Brittany.
"We sell at a loss even though it's supposed to be against the law."
- Prices pushed down -
A combination of factors, including changing dietary habits, slowing Chinese demand and a Russian embargo on Western products in response to sanctions over the Ukraine conflict, has pushed down prices for staples like beef, pork and milk.
"The prices are low. There are more and more rules. Rules are necessary but the prices don't follow the extra costs," said Mathieu, a 20-year-old dairy farmer from the northern region of Picardie.
A delegation of some 100 farmers will go to France's lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, Thursday to hand over to lawmakers "the demands and grievances of an agricultural and rural world that is on the brink of exploding and that expects a lot from its national representatives", a union representative said.
Many commuters took the advice of the police and used public transport instead of their cars on Thursday morning.
"There are not many traffic jams caused by the protesters. It's limited," said a spokesman for the traffic information centre.
During the summer, protesting farmers dumped manure in cities around the country, blocked access to roads and motorways and prevented tourists from reaching the popular Mont St-Michel in northern France.
Farmers' unions have been negotiating with the government, which unveiled an emergency package worth 600 million euros ($680 million) in tax relief and loan guarantees in July.
But they say this is woefully inadequate, as tales of farms going under -- and in the most extreme cases of suicides -- hit the news.
The agriculture minister has estimated that around 10 percent of farms in France -- approximately 22,000 sites -- are on the brink of bankruptcy with a combined debt of one billion euros.
© 2015 AFP