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Hollande observes cow-patting ritual at Paris farm fair

Stéphane de Sakutin, AFP

As per tradition, French President François Hollande spent several hours tasting wine, patting livestock and chatting with farmers as he opened the 52nd edition of the Paris Agricultural Fair on Saturday.

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The annual fair is a fixture of France’s political calendar and politicians are required to indulge in lengthy cow-patting sessions and pose for pictures with farmers and their livestock.

Former president Jacques Chirac, a native of the rural Corrèze region, was widely acclaimed as a natural on his much-vaunted visits.

In contrast, his successor Nicolas Sarkozy looked uncomfortable at the event and was ridiculed in 2008 when he swore at an exhibitor who insulted him.

Hollande, a former president of Corrèze, has always been much more at ease talking about cattle breeds and posing with livestock.

Arriving at 7am on Saturday, he chatted at length with farmers alarmed by falling prices and Russia’s embargo on western products.

“The agricultural sector is vulnerable. Vulnerable when there are climate problems, vulnerable when there are political problems,” the French president said. “So what must the government and Europe do? Secure it, stabilise it.”

Sometimes described as “the world’s biggest farm”, the annual fair is meant to showcase the country’s agricultural roots and bring a whiff of the countryside to the French capital.

The crowded, muddy premises offer a rare encounter between rural communities and the Paris elite, and farmers say the French president’s presence is crucial.

“Of course it's important. We're passing on messages to him, representatives of agricultural unions, and I hope the message will get through,” said François Lucand, the proud owner of Escudo, a 700kg bull from the Charolais region.

Departmental elections to be held across France in March have given this year's show added political importance.

Surveys show that the ruling Socialist party is expected to lose ground to the far-right National Front, but Hollande warned that the party's anti-EU stance put French agriculture at risk.

France’s farming sector is the single largest beneficiary of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which subsidises farm produce and helps offset falling prices.

Hollande warned that a victory for the far right would deprive French agriculture of this crucial support.

“If you listen to these populists, there will be no more help for farmers, no guarantee on prices,” he said. “For this reason alone, farmers should remain pro-European.”

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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