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Pledge of €230m to French winegrowers is an ’empty promise’, say vignerons

The emergency fund promised to French winegrowers amid farmer protests is “just a promise”, Rhône Valley vignerons tell Eloise Feilden.

Inter Rhône: pledge of €230m to winegrowers is an 'empty promise'

“I’m not sure it’s very good for us,” Denis Alary, Domaine Alary winemaker, said at the Wine Paris Vinexpo Paris trade fair. He and Florence Quiot have been on the frontline of protests calling for more support for the agricultural sector from the French Government.

Winegrowers joined farmers across the agricultural sector earlier this year in protest against French government’s plans to get rid of a tax break on agricultural diesel fuel. They took to the streets to light bonfires and dump manure in order to send a message to the Government.

Farmers also argued that the cost of electricity and various government fees are too big a burden, and complained about being “swamped” in regulations and paperwork.

In response, at the end of January the French officials announced an €80 million emergency fund would be given to vignerons who have been hit by recent outbreaks of mildew and suffered losses from drought. A further €150m will be set aside to finance the vine-pull schemes that have already been planned.

Quiot and Alary criticised the move. Alary explained that the demonstrations concerned an “administrative issue”, and it didn’t make sense to just throw money at the issue.

Quiot agreed: “At this stage we’re waiting for a real impact, and not just a promise,” she said. “It’s easy to say ‘stop crying, we’ll give you some money’. The problem is huge, and much deeper, and for us it’s not only a question of money.”

Both Alary and Quiot, who is general director of Vignobles Famille Quiot, want to see the Government ease rules on winegrowers in France which they say are much stricter than EU regulations. To use a French expression, Alary said, “we wash whiter than white”.

“We have a lot of laws which put pressure on farmers,” Quiot explained. “Because we have a lot of laws, the cost of producing is very high.” The result is “we lose a lot of time and a lot of money”,she added, resulting in a “loss of competitiveness compared to other European producers”.

Inflation has been a tipping point, not just for winegrowers, but for the agricultural sector as a whole. Costs have risen for wine producers across many countries, but Alary and Quiot argue that it the strict regulations on French producers in particular have exacerbated the problems.

“We don’t claim for money, we just ask to be competitive and to be able to earn enough money to live,” Quiot added.

There is also suspicion about how much of the €230m will make it into winegrowers’ pockets, and how it will be allocated.

“We don’t know who will have some of the money and how much,” she said.

Paris is due to host the Salon International de l’Agriculture in two weeks, and producers are hoping for more clarity before the event begins on 24 February. Quiot said: “If there is no decision before, we think producers will not be happy.”

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