French President Emmanuel Macron has flown to Sweden this week for a two-day state visit with Sweden’s leaders. At the same time, French farmers have converged on Paris to stage massive protests, blocking roads with tractors and hay in stark contrast with the president’s posh trip abroad.
Sweden has long maintained military neutrality, but that policy changed when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, launching the largest European war since WW2. Sweden and neighboring Finland both made moves to officially join NATO in light of Russia’s aggression, hoping that joining the organization will prevent a Russian attack against their territories. President Macron’s state visit was intended to discuss European defense and NATO, among other topics.
However, Macron’s posh dinners with Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson were a far cry from the protests happening back in France. While the national leaders discussed policy and toured the country, French farmers barricaded highways and slept in piles of hay on the road.
French farmers are protesting rising agricultural costs in France, particularly energy and bureaucratic costs tied to climate change initiatives. They are also frustrated that foreign food producers like South America are not held to the same standard as local farmers are, further exacerbating struggles with foreign food competition. Hundreds of farmers have driven tractors through France to voice their frustrations, congesting traffic and blocking highways until their demands are met.
The optics for Macron’s visit are poor, to say the least, and many people have pointed out the jarring juxtaposition between Macron’s lavish dining and the French people’s protests on the streets. Several dozen farmers were arrested when they converged on Rungis, a massive food distribution hub, and tensions are flaring as the protests continue.
Macron should return to France from Sweden this week, although it is unclear what steps he is willing to take to quell the protests. French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal already promised to abandon plans to hike taxes on diesel fuel for farmers, which was a crucial part of their protests.
In the meantime, it seems that Sweden is on track to join NATO soon, now that Turkey has finally approved its bid to join NATO. Hungary is the final country that needs to give its approval, and talks are ongoing to try to convince Hungary to allow the Scandinavian nation to join the military alliance.