In past years, I have said “Allez les Grenouilles!” on this subject, and both admired their focus while marvelling at their cheek. But there comes a time when we must all put aside childish things; and this is one of them: for El Mundo reports that the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development called yesterday for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget to be kept “at least” at current levels after 2013.
What more can a chap say? The Brussels crowd want their extra 6% to spend on grading bicycles brakes or killing the City, and the French farmer insists on being kept in the manner to which he has become accustomed.
It’s not as if I’m some kind of Brigadier Bufty-Tufty retired due to poor mental health (twice) of Sussex: I’ve owned French property for twenty-five years and been coming here annually for over forty. Thus can I observe a rural area at close quarters, and follow the politics of communal government closely. And on the basis of that research, let me offer you a few home truths.
We’ve been here this year for nearly three months now, and the splurge in local spending has been unbelievable. Our local village has had all its signage renewed, and new speed-humps fitted at each end of the settlement. Every recycling point has been planted with disguising plants. All the road markings between here and our nearest market town have been repainted. And all five nearby villages have had their approach roads sculpted with varietal architectural plants.
Last year, the tiny hamlet we inhabit (pop 73) had a brand-new Town Hall built to the most exacting standards by the most expensive local builder. The year before, my closest farming neighbour was given a government grant to prettify his field edges. As a result, our view has been hugely improved by the most exquisite collection of fruit-bearing trees and superb hedges. Good for those who like to scrump such semi-wild fruit (eg, me) and good for the wildlife….but all paid for out of local taxes. I am, by the way, a major contributor to those.
Of the three biggest farmers round here, one drives a Mercedes 5-series (and she works hard for it), one an Audi 4WD and two quad bikes, and one a quad bike and two cars. These are not folks on the breadline: when it comes to farming, France subsidises the rich. It’s as if the UK suddenly decided that bankers should get tax relief on third homes.
Silly it may be, but at the first sign that any of this might cease, tractors will be blocking most of the main autoroutes.
It is the protectionist nature of the so-called free-trade EU that winds up the Dutch, British and Germans. And it explains why David Cameron today opened with yet another plea for what used to be called an economic community to live up to its name.
Every day, a new initiative, denial or rapprochement emerges from the EU. And every day, the markets and currency dealers have less and less faith in any of it. The mug money has again supported the euro today, but the people doing that aren’t on the ground: France may say it is prepared to take the pain, but it has lost any realistic idea of what pain involves.