There are two ways of looking at the CAP: the British view that it is a French stitch-up, or the French notion that we must protect family farms and cultural heritageby Tim King / August 28, 2005 / Leave a comment
English tourists flying to Rodez airport at the beginning of July were alarmed to find the arrivals hall blocked by a delegation of French farmers, press and television cameramen. Tempers were running high over Tony Blair’s attacks on European agricultural subsidies, and British tourists, perhaps remembering the lorryloads of British lambs burned alive by French farmers in the 1990s, feared the worst. Heads lowered, they wheeled their trolleys aggressively towards the glass doors. In fact, the farmers were there in a spirit of reconciliation—Sourire pour les touristes anglais (Smile for the English tourists)—a campaign devised by the farmers’ union (FNSEA) as an antidote to the bickering over the CAP. Offering local wine, charcuterie and cheese, the farmers were hoping to win over British hearts, minds and palates to their point of view. Instead, the herd of terrified Brits stampeding for the exit showed how easy it is to misinterpret the message in Franco-British relations.
“Tony Blair’s not wrong to question the CAP, but his 40 per cent of the budget against 2 per cent of the population is simplistic, la démagogie,” said Jacques Bernat, in his fifties, a third-generation sheep farmer, active in many ancillary aspects of agricultural life. “Before it became mixed up with money, the CAP was a politique” (not politics but a thought-out, long-term policy). “The CAP united Europe. Later there were terrible abuses, but at heart the idea of controlling the market was a good one. I admire Blair, but agriculture isn’t like other industries. Every aspect is at the mercy of the weather. In the 2003 drought, the Spanish sent us feed; this year they’ve got problems and we’re helping them. Without this positive idea of Europe, many farmers would have gone under. Since Europe’s been united and the market’s been managed, we’ve had no famines. That’s new. More, for 50 years people have been increasingly well fed. You wouldn’t have that without rules.” Unlike the British view of the CAP, dominated by money, many French see it as sustaining both an ideal and a well-provisioned table.
There is much anger in France that Blair has reduced the policy to statistics: “It comes from misunderstanding the nature of farming in France,” says Olivier Serieye, president of the young farmers’ branch of the Aveyron FNSEA. “We don’t have and we don’t want multinationals owning half a département, farming intensively as you have in Britain. We want…