AFP - French farmers will have to pay back hundreds of millions of euros in subsidies after the European Union ruled the state aid amounted to unfair competition, the agriculture minister said on Monday.
Fruit and vegetable farmers received more than 330 million euros (468 million dollars) in illegal subsidies from the French state between 1992 and 2002, according to the European Commission.
"We will have to launch proceedings to be reimbursed by the farmers," said Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper.
Le Maire did not specify the amount that the state would be seeking in payback but added that there would be a case-by-case study to ensure that struggling farmers were not driven into bankruptcy.
France, the biggest beneficiary of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), was rapped for granting farmers funds that were intended to help them cope with a crisis in the fruit and vegetable market.
Le Parisien quoted the president of the fruit and vegetable growers' union, Francois Lafitte, who said the farmers would refuse to give back the subsidies.
"This helped us face up to competition from Spain and Portugal," said Lafitte, who warned the government would face a revolt if it tried to recover the funds.