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French Tractor Protests: Everything You Need To Know

French Tractor Protests: Everything You Need To Know

French farmer protests have been making waves throughout 2023. Rising costs, increased regulations, insecticide bans, and other pressures have seen farmers, tractors, and the odd truckload of manure gridlock cities across France. Here’s why the tractor protests in France keep making national headlines.

French Tractor Protests
Comité Anti Olympique Annecy 2018 Zrilic, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Understanding Tractor Protests In France

Origins Of The French Tractor Protests

Tractor protests in France have a long and colorful history. From blockading ports against cheap imports to the hundreds of tractors that gridlocked Paris in 2019 in protest at so-called agri-bashing, a French term (with an English flavor) for the public denigration of farmers and the agricultural trade.

Plus ça change for a nation shaped by revolution and centuries of popular protest, most recently with the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) movement and nationwide marches in 2023 against pension reforms. 

The spark for the latest French tractor protests was a ban on neonicotinoids.

One of the most widely used insecticides was banned across the European Union in 2018. But postponed in France.  

Neonicotinoids help protect sugar beet crops, and France is the planet’s second-largest producer of sugar beet. The decision brought an estimated 450 farmers and their tractors to Paris, causing extensive traffic jams in the French capital. 

Since infuriating Parisian motorists and gaining national headlines, French tractor protests have mushroomed into other agricultural protests and sectors. 

What Are French Farmers Protesting About?

France’s agricultural lobby customarily has long profited from lopsided influence upon government policy, hence why every French president of modern times must be seen at Paris’s annual agricultural show. But since 2019’s protest against agri-bashing, farmers concerns have mounted.

French farmers cite several costs and complications that make farming increasingly unsustainable:

  • Excessive regulations, including ecological demands like eliminating pesticides
  • Increasing fuel and animal feed costs
  • Competition from foreign imports
  • Delayed subsidies
  • Increased taxes and social costs

They are themes repeated by farmers in other countries, with similar protests in Germany and other European countries. But the French farmer protests have taken curious and occasionally malodorous steps to capture the national interest.

How Are French Farmers Making Headlines?

2023’s French tractor protests started with the slow-moving convoy that reportedly caused 261-mile tailbacks in Paris. Since then, similar but smaller convoys have jammed cities across France, from Rennes to Nancy.

While bringing the country road experience to cities has garnered media attention, the movement has taken unpleasant and lighthearted steps to retain the media spotlight.

As you can see in this video (if you have the stomach), farmers in Dijon mobilized their bountiful manure supplies to generously coat government buildings in countryside odors.

Grabbing even more attention was a mysterious phenomenon of town and city signs being turned perfectly upside down. The mystery briefly gripped a nation and confused drivers (rendering some French place names even more difficult to pronounce) until it emerged that French farmers were behind the subversive – but happily less pungent – that began in Tarn and quickly reached all corners of l’hexagon.

The Future Of France’s Tractor Protests

Tractor protests in France have evolved into wider farmer demonstrations. Will they run out of gas in 2024, or should government caretakers invest in air fresheners?

The initial French farmer protests gained a government concession; the Neonicotinoids ban was implemented, and farmers were reimbursed for losses. But only in 2023.

The EU Commission also stepped up in November 2023 with a €500 million state aid scheme for French agriculture. 

Conversely, ecological campaigners are clashing with farmers, angry with their stance on green issues.

As you can see in this video showing environmental campaigners resisting the building of farming reservoirs in Sainte-Soline, counter-protests are just as passionate.

It’s a complicated picture. Yet, you’ll find similar protests going back to 2010, with near-identical grievances. 

Clearly, tractor protests in France are not going away. 2024 could be the year of manure (evocatively translated to fumier in French). Although citizens might hope for more inventive means of highlighting agricultural concerns.

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Dan Forsythe

A politics and history graduate with a technical writing background and based in France, Dan writes amazing articles for all things French. An insatiable traveler, Dan has crisscrossed France, Europe, and beyond. When he’s not hiking or falling down historical rabbit holes, Dan sips tea and writes technical pieces or blog posts about travel, history, and life in his adopted home.

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