Convoys of tractors have edged closer to Paris, Lyon and other locations in France as thousands of protesting farmers have appeared to ignore warnings of police intervention if they cross red lines laid down by the government.
Farmers unions, unimpressed by concessions offered by President Emmanuel Macron’s government, encouraged their members on Wednesday to fight on for improved pay, less bureaucracy and protection from foreign competition.
“I’m so proud of you,” Serge Bousquet-Cassagne, the head of the farmers association in the southwestern Lot-et-Garonne department, told protesters headed for the wholesale Rungis market south of Paris, a key food distribution platform for the capital.
“You are fighting this battle because if we don’t fight, we die,” he said.
The government has warned farmers to stay away from Rungis and large cities. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who has ordered police so far to tread lightly, said police stood ready to defend strategic spots.
“They can’t attack police. They can’t enter Rungis. They can’t enter the Paris airports or the centre of Paris,” Darmanin told the France 2 broadcaster. “But let me tell you again that if they try, we will be there.”
Despite the warning, a convoy of tractors that started in the southwest resumed its drive towards Rungis early on Wednesday after spending the night at farms along the way.
Police units with armoured vehicles have been deployed along the A6 motorway leading to the food market in anticipation of its arrival.
The government has scrambled to offer concessions with Prime Minister Gabriel Attal telling parliament on Tuesday that it was ready to resolve the crisis as he praised the agriculture sector as “our force and our pride”.
But farmers said the promises, including assurances of higher payouts under the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, did not go far enough.
“Several of these measures will take three or four years to be implemented,” said Johanna Trau, a grain and cattle farmer in Ebersheim in eastern France. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Darmanin said there were 10,000 protesting farmers on French highways on Wednesday, blocking 100 spots on major roads.
In addition to moving on Paris, the convoys were also trying to encircle Lyon, France’s third-biggest city.
In Toulouse in the southwest, protesting farmers tried to blockade the local wholesale food market but were removed by police.
The uproar by farmers has been widening across Europe with Spanish farmers saying on Tuesday that they would join protests by their French, German, Polish, Romanian, Belgian and Italian counterparts.