French PM Attal outshines Macron with warm welcome at farmer fair

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PARIS — “She’s beautiful and stunningly peaceful, amidst all that’s going on around her,” French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal remarked as he petted Oreillette, the five-year-old Normande breed cow chosen as this year’s mascot for the Paris International Agricultural Show.

Attal, 34, spent Tuesday at the French farmers’ fair — a must-attend event in domestic politics where policymakers on all sides try to showcase themselves as attuned to France’s rural traditions.

Three days before, French President Emmanuel Macron spent 13 hours in these same halls, but encountered mostly jeers, calls to resign and protests — at times violent — forcing him to delay the official kickoff of the 2024 Salon by a few hours. In light of the hostile reception, the sections of the fair Macron passed through were closed off to visitors.

The president met solely with exhibitors and a few select farmer representatives, with the boos of disgruntled protesters kept at a distance audible in the background.

Things went very differently for Attal, who has become France’s best-liked politician since becoming its youngest-ever prime minister last month, according to a recent poll. Despite a few catcalls — with some visitors yelling “Frexit” and “Marine [Le Pen] for president” — Attal strolled freely from booth to booth as passersby gathered to catch a glimpse.

The prime minister sipped cow milk with a local producer, enjoyed a glass of rosé with a winemaker, and shared rum with representatives from overseas French territories.


Still, the ongoing unrest in French agriculture wasn’t invisible during Attal’s visit. Talking to unionists, the PM stressed the actions his government has taken — restating its resolve to limit the impact of Ukrainian imports on local farmers, and insisting Paris was leading the fight against a trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur bloc of South American countries.

“I’m aware that there’s still a lot to be done,” Attal said, “but we’ve moved along faster over these past few weeks than ever before. This crisis can be an opportunity to clarify and move forward on a number of issues.”