Rural France has been very quiet since Thusday, April 30th. The predominant sounds are the click of the computer mouse and the cry of enraged triumph when the quarry is pinned down.
This beats any all action computer game hands down for excitement and emotion, and it is thanks to the European Union which has decided that, in the interests of transparency, all beneficiaries of the Common Agricultural Policy should be named.
Germany has failed to obey....it's not that long after the disruption of absorbing the old German Democratic Republic, after all....a row about which fat cats have their paws in the cream which is mostly paid for by the German public is not regarded as conducive to solidarity and fellow feeling in hard times.
One has a feeling that all the Greek, Roumanian and Bulgarian beneficiaries are related, probably to their agriculture ministers, but perhaps that is just how their names look to northern European eyes.
One knows, too, that the Queen has had her paws well buttered, but all of this pales in comparison with the emotion felt by a Frenchman able to confirm long held suspicions about his neighbour's finances.
By consulting the website
...which has just gone down, what a surprise!...
the French taxpayer, consumer and, vitally, neighbour can discover just who has had his or her snout in the trough and to what extent.
It is fascinating to learn that a chap up the road who has to my certain knowledge thirty milking goats and a shed full of ducks has raked in seventeen thousand euros in the last accounting year while steadfastly refusing to pay his wife a wage...nomatter what it says on the books...and leaving his house in the state it was in the 1930s where sanitation is concerned. It does account for his smart cars and vans, however.
Then there is the guy across the river. He has a few cattle, mostly to be found in my garden when the river is low enough for them to wade across, and a pig unit which seems to be subject to electrical faults every three years in which animals inevitably die and he inevitably collects insurance. He has received one hundred and four thousand euros. It accounts for his cars too.
The man who steals my ducks as an extension of his declared activity as a cattle farmer has trousered thirty four thousand euros. It accounts for his son's cars.
The French farmer is an unpopular figure abroad, seen as grasping, greedy, environmentally unfriendly and living high on the hog on the backs of European taxpayers and consumers. It may come as a surprise to learn that he is regarded like this in France, as well, except for European taxpayers, substitute French ones....they have no time to worry about the emotions of other European taxpayers. The figures pubished more or less discreetly in the newspapers have unleashed howls of fury in the comment columns and a great deal of earnest discussion at the level of the local bar.
According to my non farming neighbours, there are two aspects to the farmer's unpopularity ...his farming activites and his privileged position when it comes to taxation.
The farming activities are but all too well known. Pollution of wells and water courses by the over use of fertilizers, which now has to be cleaned up at the expense of the general taxpayer. Over use of insecticides which are rendering the countryside sterile....hardly a buzz in my blossoming fruit trees which once were alive with pollinators....and two fingers put up to beekeepers who have seen their hives and their livelihoods destroyed. Paid to sow inappropriate crops which demand irrigation to an extent that domestic water sources are threatened. Spreading his manure on the fields and not turning it in so that the stench overpowers the neighbourhood - I swear the guy with the ducks has a copy of my diary as it seems like every time I have friends to lunch in the summer he spreads his manure the day before and drives us off the terrace. The ability to blight the countryside with chicken concentration camps, silos and sheds, while the ordinary guy has to jump through the hoops of French planning regulations to change the colour of his shutters. There is a lovely village nearby, where the main streeet is all mellow golden limestone. At the end of the street, visible from the moment you drive into the village, is a silo of vast proportions painted a livid forest green. Just try painting your shutters that colour!
Never dare let your field to a farmer...with his nine year renewable leases and his right to first refusal should you wish to sell he is a blight on your property...let alone what he gets up to while he is renting.
It is the underpart of the iceberg that rouses most resentment, however. Thanks to taxation policy, farmers manage to keep the bulk of their money inviolate, while declaring miniscule sums. This enables them to maintain their vehicle fleets at minimal cost, while entitling their children to grants meant theoretically for the children of the poor. Natural disasters have no meaning for them....they are compensated on the grand scale, which in its turn provides permanent support for the car sales industry. You have no idea how much the average guy who has to economise to keep his car on the road resents the fleets of white vans and smart cars issuing from farm gateways. You have no idea how much the general shopkeeper or tradesman resents the handouts for hard times while he faces going bust and being obliged to keep on paying workmen for whom he has no work.
Still, as my elderly neighbours say
'Nous sommes pour rien'......we don't count.
Farmers count. These subsidies keep the French agro alimentary industry turning, and keep the farming vote turning out for the right in French national politics, and, thanks to the European Union, we all pay for their privileges.
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