France’s newly appointed prime minister said on Tuesday he is implementing controls on foreign food products in order to guarantee “fair competition” amid farmers’ protests.
In his general policy speech at the National Assembly, Gabriel Attal said “the goal is clear: guaranteeing fair competition, especially so regulations that are being applied to (French) farmers are also respected by foreign products”.
He also said food retailers who do not comply with a law meant to ensure a fair share of revenues for farmers will be fined, starting immediately.
Farmers have for days been protesting across France to put pressure on the government to respond to their demands for better remuneration for their produce, less red tape and protection against cheap imports.
With protesting farmers camped out on Tuesday at barricades around Paris, France’s government hoped to calm their anger with more concessions to their complaints that growing and rearing food has become too difficult and not sufficiently lucrative.
Mr Attal defended the farming sector in his first big speech to parliament laying out his government’s priorities, calling agriculture “our strength, and our pride. Not only because it feeds us in the literal sense but also because it constitutes one of the foundations of our identity, of our traditions”.
“My priority is to boost employment,” he told the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament. Mr Attal vowed to take action so that “work pays more” than “inactivity.”
“It’s nonsense that the unemployment rate remains at around 7% at a time when so many sectors are looking to hire throughout the country,” he said.
Mr Attal, 34, said his government will take measures to encourage employers to better pay workers who earn the minimum salary. He promised tax cuts on middle-class households.
He also announced that jobless people who get a state-sponsored “solidarity income” will all be required to spend 15 hours per week in “activities” like job training or an internship, starting from next year.
“Nobody is asking for the right to be lazy in our country,” he said.
The prime minister, who was previously education minister, made a point of detailing measures to restore authority at school.
He confirmed a plan to experiment with uniforms in some public schools as part of efforts to move the focus away from clothes and reduce school bullying and vowed to diminish the time children spend on screens.
He also announced the creation of a new “sentence of community service” for children under 16 who need to be sanctioned.
“We need to get back to a clear principle: You break, you fix. You make it dirty, you clean. You defy authority, you learn to respect it,” he said.
Another measure for children who disobey rules is to offer parents to send them to a boarding school, with state financial and other support, he said.
Mr Attal promised to “de-bureaucratise France” — or diminish the volume of red tape — to respond to criticism of farmers, employers and local officials about excessive bureaucracy.
To support the country’s struggling healthcare system, he said he will appoint a special envoy to “go abroad to find doctors who would be willing to come to France”.
He also said his government will find a system to make patients pay if they take a medical appointment and do not attend it, a measure much expected by doctors.
Urging the state to be “exemplary,” he asked his administration to experiment with a four-day week, in which employees who want to arrive earlier in the morning and leave later in the evening can get one additional day off every week, while working the same amount of time as others.
He also asked for working hours of cleaning people in administration offices to be scheduled at day time, not at night.
“To be French in 2024 is to live in a country” fighting for “stability, justice and peace,” he concluded.
“To be French in 2024 means being able to be prime minister while being openly gay” in a country that, 10 years ago, was divided over same-sex marriage, Mr Attal added in reference to months of nationwide protests and wrenching debate before the law was adopted.
“I see it as showing our country is moving forward.”