French farmers snarled traffic into Paris as they drove tractors onto highways to protest against taxes and new regulations.
A total of seven roadblocks were up in the Paris region, according to the website of DiRiF, which runs the area’s road network, and which advised commuters to take public rail transport. Television news channels showed long lines of blocked traffic under rainy skies and near-freezing temperatures.
“I don’t think this is the right way to express one’s views,” Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said in an interview in Le Figaro newspaper. “We are always open to dialogue.”
The action is the latest in tax revolts in France, which in recent weeks has seen horse-riding clubs, truckers and small retail outlets protesting against increased levies by President Francois Hollande’s government. Hollande, who’s seeking to narrow the government’s budget gap, has become the least popular French leader since 1958.
Today’s protest was called by farming associations in the Paris region. In addition to nationwide issues such as a proposed trucking levy and a higher value-added tax on fertilizer, the farmers are angry about anti-pollution laws that would limit tractor use on certain days. They’re also opposing changes to the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy that will increase spending on livestock to the detriment of cereal farms, which predominate in the Paris basin.
Routes to Paris’s two airports were open. The A6 highway from the south was reduced to one lane in the Paris direction about 40 kilometers south of the capital. The N12 toward Normandy was blocked 50 kilometers west of Paris.
Hollande is squeezed between pressure from the EU to cut the budget deficit and an electorate facing one of the world’s highest tax burdens.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault this week said that while the government won’t back down on the VAT set to take effect in 2014, it will consider overhauling the tax system.
The French government collects 46 percent of gross domestic product in taxes. Standard & Poor’s estimates that government revenue amounts to 53 percent of GDP, once fines, dividends and other income are included -- more than any country outside Scandinavia. French state spending totals more than 56 percent of GDP, the highest in the euro area, it says.
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