07 February 2024, The Tablet

Bishops across France back farmers’ protest

“Farmer friends, we want to give our support to you who are demonstrating in the country, demanding justice and consideration for your profession.”

Bishops across France back farmers’ protest

French farmers block a motorway east of Paris on 30 January.
Associated Press / Alamy

As many as 20 French bishops from mainly rural dioceses have issued statements of solidarity with farmers whose protests culminated in an attempt to blockade of Paris with their tractors last week.

Protests against rising costs, subsidy cuts, new environmental rules and competition from abroad also spread to other European countries. The Brussels-based EU bishops conference group Comece called for a sustainable future for all.

“Farmer friends, we want to give our support to you who are demonstrating in the country, demanding justice and consideration for your profession,” said five bishops from Montpellier in the south.

“Faced with increased costs that crush you, ever more restrictive standards imposed on you, the permanent controls and excessive administrative procedures, you suffer to the point of crying out in despair.”

A statement by four bishops from Brittany in the north-west said: “We hear your anger, which manifests your despair and your dismay in the face of more and more constraints that prevent you from doing your job.”

They also voiced support for fishermen in their statement, in recognition of their coastal dioceses, whereas the bishops of the Montpellier province – known for its wine – had included vineyard workers in theirs. 

Other statements came from individual dioceses around France, linked to the webpage of the national bishops’ conference. The website noted that delegations of bishops have visited the annual Paris Agriculture Salon – a can’t-miss photo-op for all leading politicians – since 2016.

These statements mark a rise in support for protesting farmers at a time when the bishops are reluctant to speak out against the ever larger far-right. They opposed the National Front at its first presidential run-off in 2002, but their political comments have become more vague as more Catholic voted are drawn to far-right parties

The far-right hopes to harvest many rural votes – an important electorate in the EU’s largest farming nation – at the European elections this June.  

Comece’s statement came last week as European farmers gathered in Brussels to protest at an EU leaders’ summit. 

The bishops welcomed new EU dialogue on agriculture and hoped the talks “will mark the beginning of a new way of doing politics in Europe” and put farmers at “the centre of these considerations”.

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