All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Eating five a day on the fourth

Tennis Court OathImage via Wikipedia

The producers of fruit and veg are not having a good start to their holidays. Neither am I.
Apparently, France has been dishing out grants to this sector over about ten years from 1992 onwards which the European Union thinks were unjustified. Money was available for extraordinary problems...drought, etc....but France treated it as an annual dole to producers and the EU now wants it repaid.
The sum involved is some 330 million Euros, but with interest it comes to about 500 million and France is contesting the amount in the European Court of Justice. However, whatever the amount, Brussels wants it back.

The producers' organisations have already announced that their members won't be coughing up....they have
a) spent it
b) gone out of business
c) died
or a combination of any of the above, but, more importantly, the money isn't coming from them.

The Regional elections will soon be upon us, the next Presidential election is heaving in sight over the horizon, and, despite the proposed gerrymandering of constituencies, the governing party still needs to nurse the votes of its' traditional supporters......the farmers and growers. Not a good moment to disturb them in the pocket. Not that there ever is a good moment to do same...if it's not elections, then it's fear of them blocking the petrol pumps and attacking lorries carrying foreign produce....or just fear.

So guess who will be paying? Me......and the other three or four taxpayers in France. You know, the ones who don't have three kids and wallow in allowances.

It's about time for another 4th of August in France.
Everyone remembers Bastille Day, 14th of July, when the Paris mob over ran an undermanned fortress containing a few lunatics and debtors, but 4th August of the same year is considerably more significant....though, like Magna Carta, it has acquired a false glamour over the years.
In French thinking, the session of the Constituent Assembly on the 4th of August 1789 was the moment when everyone in the nation achieved equality.......of taxation.

When I was a child, I had one of those picture books of history....for the most part, photographs of Victorian historical paintings. The Bruce rallying his troops at Bannockburn....Piers Gaveston reclining languidly under the disgusted gaze of assorted barons....Sir John Moore dying at Corunna....but among them, several subjects from the Revolutionary period including the trial of Marie Antoinette, which differs little, I assure you, from a modern trial in France....trumped up charges, shifty looking judges who have already made up their minds, gloomy prisoners who know it and rabid prosecutors waving their arms about and foaming. The evening of the 4th August was included - a candlelit scene with aristocratic men in wigs and churchmen in long robes renouncing their privilege of being exempt from taxation.

Things are never so simple as a Victorian historical painting would indicate. The Constituent Assembly, men of property all, met when the starving country people were ransacking abbeys and feudal manors, intent on loot and freedom from the old shackles. How to control them? The army was mostly still loyal to Louis XVI, and to call them in was to risk the balance of power returning to the King.
What was the answer? Throw the ravenous dogs the bone of freedom from the onerous services demanded by their feudal overlords, the forced labour, including, notoriously, in Brittany, the duty to patrol the lake at night to ensure that the croaking of frogs did not disturb the repose of the local squire. This, the practical bit...then, being France, the idealistic bit......the abolition of freedom from taxation of the nobility and clergy. These are the elements of the French myth of the 4th of August.
Something passes under the radar, however. The feudal dues renounced by their holders were not to be abolished, they were to be bought out. How French. Under the smokescreen of philosophy and high ideals lurks the hand ever open for money.

In France today, the inequality of taxation arguments concentrate on the earnings - or, more accurately, income - of the business leaders, rewarded whether they succeed or fail, whether their firm outsources to the third world or not. The 'fiscal shield' promoted by Sarkozy to keep the rich rich also comes under fire.
What doesn't raise its' head is the unfairness of the fiscal arrangements for farmers and growers which allows them to keep their income relatively tax free and gives their children access to grants that are intended for the children of the poor. Why not? Because the leaders of French opinion live, work and breathe in Paris, where you only see a farmer at the annual agricultural fair. The country is where these types spend August. Country people are the 'ploucs'....the great unwashed.....they don't count in the great scheme of things that is France, which takes place in Paris.
So, on the 4th of August, while you are eating your five different items of fruit and vegetables to conserve your health, consider how they get to your table and who, in the end, pays to keep the farmers rich. And eating cake is no solution.

Apologies that the image is that of the Tennis Court Oath....still, it gives you the idea.

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  1. Your pastiche of French life, taxes and politics is just perfect. Takes me back to the time we spent there. We were especially enchanted by rail strikes that never really seemed to happen, even when we were told they'd taken place.

  2. Ian, I'm glad you like it. Some days I wonder whether I am in real life or whether I have to follow the advice of the White Queen and try to believe six impossible things before breakfast every day. Reading Le Figaro probasbly helps the latter.