(Bloomberg) -- Emmanuel Macron’s government will try to defuse French farmers’ fury over falling incomes and stringent European regulations in an attempt to stop demonstrations from escalating into a blockade of Paris.

Protests that began in the south of France have spread through the week, as farmers blocked major roads and snarled traffic around the country with go-slow processions. Some unions have urged their members to cut off the main routes into Paris on Friday afternoon.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who was appointed earlier this month to inject fresh impetus into a government torn by disagreements on immigration, is due to unveil the administration’s response in the coming hours. France is tackling protests that mirror dissent in European countries including Germany and Poland. 

“The prime minister will announce a panoply of measures to respond to this deep crisis,” Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau said after meeting with food industry and retail representatives in Paris. “The farmers must be heard, and the government is listening, but it’s also the responsibility of the entire sector.”

Attal’s plans are expected to include measures to cut red tape and offset the impact of shrinking subsidies on non-road diesel. The government may also pledge to speed up financial handouts for farmers who have been affected by floods or cattle disease.

“There’s a real risk of a general flare-up,” said Hortense de Padirac, a Paris-based political scientist who teaches at the Sciences Po university. “Attal will have to show he’s up to the mission he’s been assigned to by the president. It’s Attal’s credibility that is at stake.”

Many of the farmers’ complaints have focused on what they see as a tangle of ever-shifting regulations that have pushed many of them to the brink of bankruptcy. The European Union began a so-called strategic dialog Thursday to address growing divisions over agriculture across the bloc. But the effort is a slow-moving process, and it’s unclear how much the EU can do quickly to ease the protests.

While there has been little violence so far, the anger over living costs and fuel prices echoes the Yellow Vest protests that kicked off in 2018 and plagued Macron’s first term as president.

In 2019, Macron responded with tax cuts and support for low earners that the government then estimated cost as much as €17 billion ($18.5 billion). But this time, he has less room for maneuver as his government struggles to tackle a vast debt burden built up during the Covid-19 pandemic and energy crisis. 

On Wednesday, leading French farmers’ union FNSEA grouped the grievances into a litany of demands ranging from tax credits for agricultural fuel to dispensations from EU rules on fallow land. “Incomprehensible decisions are raining down on our sector,” the union said. “We need deep structural change.”

Part of the challenge for Macron and Attal is the huge public backing for the protests, despite spreading travel chaos. According to an Odoxa-Backbone Consulting survey of 1,005 people for newspaper Le Figaro, 89% of French people support the movement.

Speaking alongside Fesneau in Paris, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said income is the central question for the agricultural sector. He pledged measures to ensure a 2018 law covering pricing rules is strictly enforced, with fines of as much as 2% of revenue for companies not complying. 

“There is no food sovereignty without fair pay for farmers,” Le Maire said. “Fines will come, and they’ll come fast.”

The pressure on the government to act is also rising as far-right parties across Europe are latching on to the protests to bolster their campaign for the European Parliament elections in June. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally is already ahead of Macron’s political grouping, according to opinion polls. 

In Brussels, the MCC think tank that’s backed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Eurosceptic Fidesz party organized a farmers’ protest against the EU on Wednesday.

MCC is a $1 billion education foundation Orban created to nurture a new generation of Hungarians sympathetic to his far-right policies. Helmed by Orban’s chief political adviser, the foundation has satellite offices in Europe, including in Brussels, which are tasked with exporting Orban’s brand of illiberalism and making it part of the mainstream discourse.

Paris in Sights

But in France, everyone was waiting to see if the protests would reach Paris. 

“As far as the capital is concerned, we’re growing in power, and the movement is spreading to the whole of France,” Arnaud Gaillot, head of young farmers’ union Jeunes Agriculteurs, told BFM TV from a protest on the A6 highway in the Yonne area southeast of Paris.

“The capital should be one of the last options, but we can imagine all sorts of things,” he said. “The ball is in the government’s court to avoid paralyzing a country that has other problems.”

--With assistance from Alan Katz and Zoltan Simon.

(Updates with comments from France’s agriculture and finance ministers starting in fourth paragraph.)

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