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Farmers surround Paris in what they're calling a siege of the French capital


Angry French farmers have surrounded Paris in what they're calling a siege of the French capital.


The highways leading in and out of the city are blocked by hundreds of tractors. It's all part of a standoff between the farmers and the French government.

MARTÍNEZ: Reporter Rebecca Rosman joins us now from Paris. Rebecca, a siege - that sounds very intense. Why are farmers using the word siege?

REBECCA ROSMAN, BYLINE: For one thing, it's a great attention-grabbing word - right? - siege. But whatever you call it, they're causing major traffic disruptions. The farmers are blocking the main highways that enter Paris one by one. I was at the A1 highway last night, which is the main road between the city and Charles de Gaulle Airport. Hundreds of farmers are camped out there. Dozens of tractors are blocking all lanes in both directions. And the farmers are settling in for what could be a long week. They have tents set up, barbecues and even portable toilets.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. All right, so what's got them so angry that they're using tractors as traffic barriers?

ROSMAN: Well, they've got a long list of complaints, and it's a bit complicated, but let me walk you through some of the big ones. There are mounting complaints about poor working conditions, unfair competition caused by cheaper agricultural products coming in from elsewhere in the EU, even, countries like Spain and Italy and beyond. And then you have this question of overregulation.

I spoke with one farmer whose family has been in this business for over a hundred years. His name is Pierre de Wilde. And here's what he had to say.

PIERRE DE WILDE: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: He's saying things have become increasingly difficult in the last 10 years in particular, with too much regulation at both the French and EU level, which has significantly lowered the farmers' output, which has in turn lowered their profits.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So how's the French government responding?

ROSMAN: Well, these protests actually began in the south of France and have steadily been moving north. So the French government actually did make some concessions last week. They promised to change some of these bureaucratic regulations, give farmers some emergency funding and guarantee a living wage. They also said they would scrap plans to get rid of a diesel subsidy for farmers.

But it obviously hasn't been enough to please them entirely. For example, France's regulations for organic produce are stricter than the rest of the EU, and the farmers say that's not fair. Regulations to do with climate change are also stricter. And all this puts the French farmers at a disadvantage compared to other farmers in the EU. And the new French prime minister, Gabriel Attal, is supposed to address all this in Parliament later today.

MARTÍNEZ: So what do the French people have to say about this? It sounds to me, Rebecca, like they're the ones most affected, from what the farmers produce to having their commutes being blocked.

ROSMAN: Yeah, you're right. But I have to say, there's actually pretty big widespread support. One poll has shown that 90% of the French population supports the farmers on this one. I spoke to Toufik Barakat, and he's a taxi driver, someone whose livelihood is directly impacted by all this, right? And here's what he had to say.

TOUFIK BARAKAT: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: So he's saying he doesn't have a problem with what they're doing, and he's actually ready to lose money if it means the farmers are going to get more help from the French government. You have to remember this siege - it's not even 24 hours old yet. And the farmers say they're going to stay at least until Thursday, when French President Emmanuel Macron is going to be in Brussels for an EU summit. And the farmers are demanding that Macron use this visit as an excuse to carry this fight to the EU level.

MARTÍNEZ: That's reporter Rebecca Rosman in Paris. Thanks a lot.

ROSMAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMDEN CLOWN'S "CON LECHE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Rebecca Rosman