French agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire is set to meet with farmers’ representatives to defuse a crisis over subsidies. Farmers have been asked by the state to pay back millions of euros in subsidies, deemed illegal by the EU.
The French minister for agriculture, Bruno Le Maire, is due to meet with fruit and vegetables farmers’ representatives on Tuesday to work out how they will pay back the hundreds of millions of euros in subsidies deemed illegal by the European Union.
French farmers received over 330 million euros in subsidies from the French state between 1992 and 2002 to cope with a crisis in the fruit and vegetable market. The European Commission says these subsidies amounted to unfair competition and has asked the French government to get the farmers to pay back up to 500 million euros, which include interest on the original payouts.
“We’ve made the political choice (…) to launch proceedings to be reimbursed by the farmers so that France doesn’t have to pay heavy penalties, which amount to several million euros per month”, said Bruno Le Maire during an interview with France Info radio.
Le Maire didn’t specify how much money the farmers will have to pay back, but he did say that the amount was “negotiable”. He added that there would be a case-by-case study to ensure that struggling farmers were not driven into bankruptcy.
“We’ll send letters in September to all farmers’ unions to find out who benefited and how much they got”, said Le Maire.
“Countryside on fire”
Farmers’ unions claim these subsidies were used for collective investments including advertisements to more effectively deal with the competition from Spain and Portugal, insisting that individual farmers should not be forced to pay it back.
Already affected by a downward trend in fruit and vegetable prices, farmers say they cannot afford to repay the subsidies.
“These declarations will set the countryside on fire”, said Bruno Dupont, the president of a fruit growers’ union during an interview with French monthly L’Expansion, implying that the government will face a revolt if it tries to recover the funds.
“Fruit and vegetable growers won’t pay. Everybody was aware of this subsidy system, including the European Commission. This payback will just ruin the growers”, said Francois Lafitte, head of Fedecom, another farmers’ union.
Le Maire will try to defuse the looming crisis when he meets the farmers’ representatives in Paris at 14h30 (GMT+2) on Tuesday.
Date created : 2009-08-04