FRANCE

Sarkozy to unveil ‘massive’ agricultural aid plan

French President Nicolas Sarkozy addresses farmers in a cheese-producing village on Tuesday to outline new emergency aid measures for the crisis-ridden agricultural sector. French farmers’ unions are demanding reduced production costs.

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy chose the picturesque village of Poligny, best known for its popular Jura comté cheese, to address embattled French dairy farms and outline his government’s new agricultural aid policy on Tuesday.

The sector faced a 20% drop in income in 2008, largely due to the rapidly dwindling sale prices of raw agricultural produce, and is expected to experience a similar drop in 2009. French Agriculture Minister Bruno Lemaire told French daily Le Monde that the sector is facing “its worst crisis in 30 years”.

Ahead of Sarkozy’s address, French Prime Minister François Fillon told reporters the measures to be announced by Sarkozy would be “massive” but provided no further details.

France’s main farm union, the FNSEA, fears the aid may be too little too late. Its president, Jean-Marie Lemétayer, told French TV channel Public Sénat that he is hoping for at least one billion euros in immediate bank loans to farmers. Agricultural employers are also demanding a decrease in taxes and employment costs.

After weeks of protests, France’s agricultural crisis came to a head last week when more than 50,000 people demonstrated across the country.

Farmers are also seeking to make their voices heard by European leaders. Several hundred of them succeeded in blocking a Luxembourg neighbourhood where European agriculture ministers were meeting to discuss the deregulation of the milk market with barricades of manure and flaming tires and haystacks.

French farmers fear that any measure announced by Sarkozy will be nullified by a significant decrease of the European Union’s agricultural budget, as proposed in the preliminary version of a European Commission policy report.

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