French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday pledged 650 million euros in aid for struggling French farmers in addition to one billion euro in loans to the farming sector in a major speech outlining his government’s new agricultural policy.
"There is no question of France abandoning its agriculture," said Sarkozy said in a speech delivered in the picturesque cheese-producing village of Poligny in the east of France. "I have come to offer you an unprecedented plan of exceptional support for our agriculture.”
In addition to the aid and loan packages, Sarkozy’s plan would reduce taxes on young farmers, as part of a number of measures to try to ensure that an adequate number of workers continue to enter the agricultural industry.
The plan includes a cut in the tax on petroleum products that famers use, and would have the government repay a percentage of the carbon tax, amounting to some 120 million euros.
France’s main farm union, the FNSEA, had said it was hoping for at least one billion euros in immediate bank loans to farmers.
FRANCE 24 Political Affairs Editor Marc Perelman explains that “this should satisfy the main agricultural union. … whether this will be enough will really depend on whether prices go back up for commodities.”
Sarkozy promised to have the plan finished by 2009 and asked French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire to organise its implementation.
During his speech, Sarkozy also encouraged the European Union to quickly change certain aspects of its agricultural policy.
He said that Europe needs to have a carbon tax at its borders, as well as new market management tools to protect farmers’ incomes.
He also called for new ways to maintain production in vulnerable agricultural regions, particularly mountainous regions, and he emphasised the industry’s environmental obligations.
France is the European Union's biggest farm producer and farming employs 770,000 people but the sector is reeling from a collapse in agricultural prices, which fell 15 percent this year, according to official data.
After weeks of protests, France’s agricultural crisis came to a head last week when more than 50,000 people demonstrated across the country.