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.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Keeping a dog and whimpering yourself

"Wheatfield with Crows, Vincent van Gogh ...Image by BlikStjinder via Flickr
I know I shouldn't do is like poking my tongue into a sore tooth...irrestistible but to be regretted seconds later.

The latest report of the Cour des Comptes - the body which gives a general audit  of French state activity - has been published, and, of course, I can't resist its' lures.

Apart from the criticism of the government for not acting effectively to reduce France's massive public debt, the criticism in general of the management of the railways - SNCF - with its' wild over recruitment and its' reliance on public subsidy to pay its' pensioners combined with the uncontrolled issue of free railway tickets to Uncle Tom Cobley and all, the section which caught my attention was that of aid to rural development.
Well, I live in the country and I like to know where my money is being wasted. And, preferably, upon whom.

There is a body called the CNASEA, which is supposed to oversee the policy of modernisation of agriculture in France - that is, handing out money to farmers - with funds originating from both the French state and the European Union.
According to the Cour des Comptes, the effect of current policy, by which the Minister of Agriculture keeps most of the power in his own hands, means that a body which was set up to control the distribution of public money has in effect become just a payroll clerk, paying out on the say so of the minister.
The Cour des Comptes doesn't think much of this, and, having read the report, I can see why.

Why should the Minister of Agriculture keep a dog while barking himself? Because he doesn't bark. Rather he rolls over on his back whimpering where farmers are concerned and he is not going to allow anyone to upset the gravy train which keeps the farmers on their farms rather than disrupting traffic with their tractors or burning lorries with live lambs, but you need to go to the end for the item
He also needs to keep on employing civil servants in offices in each department, to allow the Prefet - Paris's man on the spot  - to avoid conflict with farmers, which might arise if the body who is supposed to be in control was in control.

Why is it necessary to placate farmers? So that they will continue to act as the smokescreen for those who really cash in on the Common Agricultural Policy - the big firms in the agro-alimentary sector, like  Groupe Doux, a poultry processor who trousered 62 million Euros in 2008.

The whole shebang does appear to be imploding, by the by. More efficient producers elsewhere in the EU are able to offer lower prices to the big buyers in the game, who in turn are squeezing the small guys in France on prices, confident as they are that the Minister of Agriculture will intervene to save the small guys with more subsidies, thus further subsidising the supermarkets and the agro-alimentary industry. With the public purse looking more threadbare by the day, the Minister might not be able to oblige in the expected measure.

However, back to the report of the Cour des Comptes.

There appears to be little or no control over the validity of the claims for payment.
When there are deleterious climatic effects, like drought or flood, the Minister of Agriculture insists that seventy per cent of a claim be paid a month before it would be due to be paid without any form of control being permitted to block this advance.
Grants to sheep farmers for precautions to be taken thanks to the re introduction of wolves in upland areas, which depended on how many sheep were being grazed, had controls removed pretty damn quick, due to the 'sensitive' nature of the problem - read farmers blocking roads.
Better still, when they finally nailed one guy in the Loir-et-Cher for false claims, the Minister of Agriculture intervened to lift any threat of proceedings because - get this - by nature of the fact the he was president of a farmers grouping and thus demonstrating his devotion to the cause of agriculture, he would be regarded as a special case!

You can read the whole sorry mess here.

I think I prefer a visit to the dentist to contemplating the waste and inefficiency of the Common Agricutural Policy.

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