Macron blames far right for chaotic farmers’ fair in Paris

Police and protesters clashed as French president visited the annual agricultural show in a tense atmosphere.

Macron blames far right for chaotic farmers’ fair in Paris

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron accused protesters of seeking chaos and pushing the agenda of the far-right National Rally on Saturday, as violent clashes between riot police and disgruntled farmers punctuated the Paris International Agricultural Show.

Since the start of the farmers’ protests in January, the French government focused its efforts on ensuring smooth running for the Salon — an annual weeklong event showcasing France’s farmland and usually attended by upwards of half a million people.

Macron and his government pulled out all the stops to portray themselves as friends of the farming industry and made a series of policy announcements over the course of a month in an effort to appease the agricultural anger, including by softening anti-pesticide regulation at the request of farmers’ unions.

These efforts, however, proved unsuccessful. Protesters stormed through the fair’s doors before its opening as the president was having breakfast with the head of the farmers’ unions. Police pushed back and sprayed tear gas to avoid a direct confrontation between Macron and the protesters, as crowd movements resulted in several falls and knocked over animal enclosures.

Talking to reporters, Macron said protesters “were not helping any of [their] colleagues by smashing up exhibition booths.” The president set up an ad hoc discussion with unionized farmers, less than 24 hours after cancelling a debate that was originally supposed to also include environmentalist organizations and agro-industry representatives.

The farmers surrounded Macron, accompanied by Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau and junior minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher, with participants forming a small circle around the president as electricity filled the room. Participants restated points often made since the start of the protests: complaints about over-regulation, low wages, stringent environmental rules, and foreign produce, particularly coming from Ukraine, creating unfair conditions for French farmers. One farmer showed the president the state of his bank account on his phone; another said he had contemplated committing suicide due to the hardships he faced.

‘A project of degrowth and stupidity’

“We can’t say French agriculture is screwed,” Macron said, speaking out against “dooms-day rhetoric” while acknowledging some of the difficulties facing the owners of small farming businesses. The French president answered the questions raised point by point but was visibly on edge and showed his discontent when interrupted and jeered for his responses on issues including Ukraine and the European Union.

Macron said he would fight to have the EU impose rules that imported Ukrainian products be subjected to the same conditions as those applied within the bloc. He also said his government would look into implementing a floor price for producers.

Macron spoke bluntly, adopting informal language and expletives during his discussion — a method of straight-talking communication he has often opted for since the start of his presidency. “I wasn’t born yesterday; I know where some of the protesters are coming from,” Macron said, regretting “political manipulation,” which he seemed to pin on the far-right National Rally party.

Macron described the National Rally’s positions on agriculture as a “project of degrowth and stupidity.”

“France’s agriculture needs Europe,” he stressed on multiple occasions.

Jordan Bardella, the National Rally’s lead candidate in the upcoming European election, responded by calling Macron “the main advocate for the Green Deal, which reduces yields and livestock numbers.” Bardella also said the president suffered from “a dangerous and worrying schizophrenia,” in a post on X.

“Macron’s presence here wasn’t asked for: he’s taunting us,” Amélie Rebière, a local representative for the hardline Coordination Rurale union, told POLITICO. “We’re tired of false promises. It’s not our job to make things go smoothly for the president.”

As has been tradition since Jacques Chirac’s presidency in 2002, Macron walked through the fair meeting with local producers, but he did so under heavy security apparatus, which kept visitors at a distance as boos and calls for the president to resign were heard throughout his visit.

Bardella, currently polling more than 10 percentage points ahead of Macron’s camp in polling for the European election, will attend the fair on Sunday, in what is expected to be a much less chaotic visit.