Sunday, March 04, 2007

The End of French Peasantry (as we knew it)

This is the season of France's Agricultural Fair again and the last one for French president Chirac who will end his term in about two months. It is often said that the French, even many city dwellers, still feel a connection with the countryside and so that agriculture has held a special place in the hearts of a nation.
Chirac has always had been a very good defender of French farmers who are now rightfully worried. So this statement during his visit to the annual Agriculture in Paris, should not come as a surprise:
"I am deeply shocked by certain positions taken by the European (trade) commissioner Mandelson, who continues to offer more while the Americans, in exchange, show absolutely no intention of making the slightest concession on agriculture,"
"Shocked" indeed! Hijacking negotiations for people who now comprise less than 3% of the labor force (that's just twice the number of unemployed in France!) seems a bit out of touch with reality.
Things are changing anyway as the agricultural electorate is quite small today. Even Sarkozy, the conservative candidate in the presidential elections... "has proposed a 'simpler" version of the CAP" and socialist contender Royal "has focused mostly on the environment. Farming issues have barely featured in the campaign." (read article here).
There is growing acceptance in France that the European C.A.P. (Common Agricultural Policy) must be reformed - for instance it has greatly encouraged corn production by giving more subsidies to cereal farmers, which has meant a great increase of water irrigation (50% of the water used for agriculture goes to corn). Besides, it is very costly:
Nearly half of the EU budget (48 billion Euro) of 98 billion Euro is allocated to agricultural spending, and France is the first beneficiary, yet the farmers represent only 2.6% of the working population in France (official data found on the website of the French Ambassy in the U.S.).
As we said last year, both France and the U.S. have farm communities “that benefit from tens of billions of dollars in handouts each year, allowing their farmers to export inexpensive food to world markets” (I.H.T.)

While the blame should be put on both countries, it is particularly ironic that Chirac
should have continued to defend farm subsidies while playing the defender of the cause of Africa in international talks :
Four African ambassadors to the United States who were attending World Food Prize events in Des Moines said Friday that U.S. and European Union farm subsidies make it difficult for African farmers to compete in the world market and increase the amount of money needed for development assistance in Africa.

Luckily Chirac will soon be gone and frankly, good riddance!

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