Europe

France offers angry farmers emergency aid

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Media captionFarmers say they are being forced into bankruptcy

The French government has proposed a €600m (£420m; $655m) package of urgent aid for farmers, who have blocked roads for days in protest at falling prices.

Most of the money will help farmers deal with a cash crisis by cancelling or deferring tax payments. But some of the money will help restructure debts.

Farmers said they would assess the plan but several routes remain blocked.

They accuse supermarkets and the food industry of keeping prices low, forcing many of them into bankruptcy.

One farmers' union leader in Normandy called for the blockade around Caen to be suspended. But key road bridges in the region remained closed to traffic on Wednesday evening and elsewhere the government's intervention appeared to fall on deaf ears.

In the Loire Valley, some 100 protesters lifted their blockade near Chambord castle, but a union official said it was not because they were happy with the government's offer.

Farmers said they would blockade access to France's second city, Lyon, from Wednesday evening. More action was expected further south around Clermont-Ferrand on Thursday.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Farmers were unimpressed with the government's plan and protests continued in several areas

Traffic on the A1 motorway outside Lille in northern France was hit by protests from early on Wednesday.

In Brittany, some 200 farmers attacked a supermarket in Lannion late on Tuesday night, dumping manure at the entrance and setting alight to tyres.

Xavier Beulin of the FNSEA union said ministers were at least moving in the right direction.

"We've just accepted measures for Greece; I reckon we can do something for French farmers," Mr Beulin said, equating his members' struggle with the eurozone debt crisis.

Mr Beulin had earlier accused the government of adopting only "trivial measures", warning there was "a sort of exasperation and anger that's been escalating for weeks. This hasn't come out of nowhere".

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Prime Minister Manuel Valls (R) and Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll announced the plan

Announcing a 24-point plan, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said:

  • €100m of taxes to be annulled
  • Further €500m to be set aside to allow farmers more time to pay taxes and other debts
  • Fund to help farmers restructure their debts to be increased from €8m to €50m
  • Public investment bank (BPI) to guarantee up to €500m in loans to farming sector in further attempt to alleviate cash crisis

"The demonstrations of the past days reflect the anguish and distress that we have seen for some time. We want to respond to this anguish," the prime minister said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Although some blockades were lifted, farmers said they were planning to continue actions around key cities

The Socialist government estimates that 10% of French farms could be facing bankruptcy.

Last month, ministers pushed the food industry to raise the prices paid to farms but Mr Foll said last week that pork producers were still being paid below the target price of €1.40 (£1) per kilo.

Dairy farmers say they are being paid €300 per tonne of milk and need at least €340 to break even.

"I solemnly call on industry and major suppliers to respect the increase in prices that they committed themselves to. There cannot be a frantic rush to low prices," Mr Valls told reporters.

Supermarkets and suppliers are being blamed for not passing on the recent price rises on meat and dairy products. But prices have been pushed down by foreign competition and reduced meat consumption.

A Russian ban on EU food imports and reduced Chinese demand have added to the problems.

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