France’s centrist government is widely seen as out of touch with the common man, with the country’s young leader described as showing contempt for lower-income workers. “Farmers are denouncing the [government’s] arrogance and contempt for the farming world,” Mr Jacob, head of the conservative bloc in the lower house, told Le Monde newspaper when asked to comment on the office attacks. “This simmering anger was exacerbated by the approval of CETA: some officials have blatantly lied, telling farmers the free-trade pact will have little impact on the farming industry,” he continued, before slamming the government’s “inconsiderateness”.
French farmers are finding the approval of the deal “hard to stomach,” he continued, adding that Mr Macron “is the first French president who has failed to defend the agricultural budget at a European level”.
The spark for the attacks on the constituency offices of more than 10 members of Mr Macron’s centrist La République en Marche (LREM) party was the adoption by parliament of the controversial deal – the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) – on July 23.
Lawmakers who voted in favour of the accord have had their constituency offices walled in or smashed. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has ordered stepped-up security around their homes and the offices of all parliamentarians in response.
Mr Jacob, however, warned the government against branding the farmers behind the attacks as “thugs,” insisting that most are “businessmen facing a very difficult economic situation”.
CETA, which was championed by Mr Macron despite strong opposition from the left, the far right and some critics within his own party, removes tariffs on nearly all goods and services between Europe and Canada.
But farmers argue that the deal jeopardises the beef sector, as it will lead to France being flooded with low-cost Canadian farm produce, bringing down prices and demand for domestic produce.
Canada’s environmental legislation is less strict than in France.
Critics of CETA also say it undermines the EU’s social and ecological regulations by importing products made under conditions that would not be allowed in Europe.
The government argues that the agreement includes sufficient guarantees to protect French farmers and consumers.
Mr Jacob also briefly commented on a separate trade deal between the bloc and the Mercosur group of South American countries, saying the pact “in its current form” would be a “total disaster for the farm sector”.
“The seeds of this disaster were sown with the approval of CETA,” he said.
The draft EU-Mercosur accord would remove import tariffs on several farm products, such as orange juice, instant coffee and fruit.
It will also reduce to zero from 20 percent a levy on beef imports into the EU under the so-called Hilton quota. That quota allows Brazil and Argentina to each export up to 10,000 tonnes of beef and 29,500 tonnes of prime beef cuts to the EU per year.
France is one of the European countries most concerned about a surge in beef imports.
The outrage over the free-trade deals comes at a time of growing hostility towards the Macron government, which peaked during a winter of sometimes violent yellow vest protests.
The anti-government rallies began in mid-November over planned fuel tax hikes and rising living costs, but quickly morphed into a broader revolt against Mr Macron’s liberal economic policies and perceived arrogant manner.