Paris agricultural exhibition opens amid farmers' protests and does not bode well

Farmers' anger, which began in October in the Tarn region of France and peaked nationally in January, is far from being totally appeased, despite numerous concessions from the government. Their grievances are manifold, and include taxes, French and European standards, free-trade agreements, delays in subsidy payments and farmers' incomes.

Mobilization actions are expected in Ile-de-France and several other regions. A welcoming committee of farmers camped out in front of the Salon de l'Agriculture last night, ahead of Emmanuel Macron's visit, and yesterday, tractors marched through western Paris.

Arnaud Rousseau, head of the majority farmers' union FNSEA, warned on Friday evening that the President's visit would "not be like every year". In other words, it won't be a walk in the park, free from boos and demonstrations of defiance.

He also warned President Macron that "before marching around and taking photos, we first had to tell the farmers what they've been waiting for and demanding for weeks", as he addressed his FNSEA and allied Jeunes Agriculteurs (JA) troops outside the show gates in the evening.

The demonstrators whistled the president's name. Under his "Manu Tchao!" sign, Romain Garnier, a farmer, explained: "If things don't move, he's got to go.”

"Frankly," says an FNSEA executive, "we can't control anything. They're boiling hot."

Arnaud Rousseau and his counterpart Véronique Le Floc'h, president of Coordination rurale, France's second-largest farmers' union, nevertheless agreed to see the President - "if he can get in", added Mme Le Floc'h.

According to the French press, in particular La Liberation and Le Monde, Emmanuel Macron is scheduled to open the show from 8am. The head of state, who is due to begin a stroll through the show's aisles in the early morning, was forced to cancel, on Friday evening, a debate scheduled for Saturday with players from the agricultural world after the Fédération nationale des syndicats d'exploitants agricoles (FNSEA) refused to take part. The organization criticized the presence - later denied by the Elysée Palace - of representatives of the environmental collective Les Soulèvements de la Terre.

The information on the participation of the latter, specifically rattled the agriculturers. In a rare act of a public communications error, Macron’s administration first invited Les Soulèvements de la Terre, to later rescind the offer of participation in concession to the farmers who have specifically opposed the presence of this environmental group at the meeting.

This organization that was ordered to be dissolved by the government last year due to the violent nature of their protests, managed not only to escape being dismembered by the State, thanks to the decision of the country’s State Council but surprisingly received in an invitation by the French administration to the event that starts today.

Farmers were quick to react. The president of the majority farmers' union FNSEA "refused" to take part in a major debate with President Emmanuel Macron at the Salon de l'Agriculture on Saturday, in the presence of Soulèvements de la Terre, denouncing an "unacceptable provocation". "I had agreed to take part in a debate. Under these conditions, I refuse to take part in what will only be a masquerade," said Arnaud Rousseau on X on Thursday evening.

An hour later, the Elysée announced that the collective, once described as an "eco-terrorist" by Gérald Darmanin, was no longer invited "to ensure the serenity of the debates".

On Friday morning, Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau disassociated himself from Emmanuel Macron's invitation, deeming it "inappropriate given the context". Les Soulèvements de la Terre is "a collective whose model of expression is rather the Molotov cocktail", he said on TF1. "So we're not talking to these people. "Who can imagine that the conditions for dialogue would be met under these conditions? Nobody serious can imagine it," concluded Arnaud Rousseau.

Later on Firday, the Elysée Palace issued a "clarification" on this invitation. In a publication on the social network X, the Élysée indicated that "contacts have been made with collectives that have disrupted the show in the past, to offer them, for this edition, a constructive expression within the framework of this exchange". The executive asserts that the "Soulèvements de la Terre" were "neither invited nor contacted": "This was an error made during the press interview prior to the event".

In the end, such an error on the part of the French president’s administration was a grave miscalculation. The French president seemingly tries to keep all the sides together, presenting a union that doesn’t exist. While on one hand, he tries to keep the environmental groups, who are politically aligned to the left wing of French politics attached to him, his approach to also keep good ties with the farmers, who are of right-wing political inclination, has opened a pandora’s box where all sides keep to themselves. Sometimes, you have to choose a side. And President Macron, seems to learn it the hard way.

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