Image via WikipediaI am not fond of the French farmer.
He pollutes my water, he kills my bees and he has his hand in my pocket, here, whether times are good or bad.
France is finally facing up to trying to balance its' budget, something successive governments have managed to ignore, and ministers have been charged to root round their cupboards to see what measures can be taken, after wheezes like moving civil servants from the central government payroll to the local government payroll have been exhausted.
As usual, however, vested interests have to be consulted and spin doctors employed to put the best face on things.
One of the vested interests, the unions who, with the government and the industry bosses, form part of the unholy trinity which reigns over French working conditions, have turned out their members by the many thousand to demonstrate against the proposed reform of the pension regime, which would raise the pensionable age from 60 to 62.
Already, the government is ready to 'make exceptions'...for those whose job is regarded as 'penible', which might be understood to mean that the nature of the job is such as to wear one down.
What it really means is that the unions can use this exception to maintain the early retirement privileges which their members already enjoy....no going on until 62 for train drivers, for example, or nurses.
The government had proposed a little hurdle for this particular arrangement....at 60 the person seeking to retire had to show that he she or it was twenty per cent incapacitated compared with he she or its' condition at the entry into employment.
Howls of fury.
Now he she or it only have to show ten per cent incapacity to qualify.
A swift examination of the liver after years of long ritual lunch breaks should suffice for that.
And guess which other interest group has been accommodated in like fashion?
Now, 'penible'...'wearing'..... to me means the life led by the inter war generation.....ploughing with horses or oxen, out in all weathers, cutting wood to keep warm,....here...... long before the wartime black market enriched those who participated and even longer before subsidies rained on their privileged heads as, with their dubiously acquired cash they became owners as opposed to tenants and assimilated to the bourgeoisie - thus qualifying for the good things the land of 'equality' reserves for the few.
No one in their right mind would seek the return of those conditions....men whose bodies were twisted by labour, women old before their time.....here....but to call modern farming conditions 'wearing' is going a long way too far.
Mechanisation has seen to that.
The 'care' of pigs and poultry in their concentration camps takes little physical labour on the part of the farmer...so aptly known as the 'exploitant'.
Feed and water on self dispense, automatic flushing away of the waste under the grids that serve as flooring...the only time physical work is involved is when they are sold and transported away.....the rural night air resounds with the lorries carrying them off to the Nacht und Nebul of the slaughterhouses.
More and more cattle are being kept permanently indoors, providing better returns, while their old pastures are turned over to hay and silage, maize and sunflowers....sown, weeded, sprayed and harvested by machine.
The cereal plains are crawled by air conditioned tractors, where the driver might even be guided by gps while listening to music on Skyrock Radio.
Boring, yes. wearing, no.
Perhaps it is mental anguish which is in question.
How will you get your hooks on your share of the latest sums to be thrown to you by the government, who seem to think that they are in a sled outrunning the wolves, throwing down bribes to retard the chase.
But when you're dealing with French farmers, their appetite is unbridled.....the bribe just gives the government time to assemble the next one before the wolves are howling at the runners again.
Thus the agriculture minister has just announced another 330 million euro bribe....and still daren't visit the agriculture salon at Rennes for fear of flying eggs and physical attack.
How will you pay off your debt to the bank for the purchase of the latest all singing all dancing combine harvester which would serve to bring in your harvest and the harvests of half the farmers in the commune, but which, since none of you trust each other, you cannot buy in common to serve everyone.
It looked wonderful the last time you took it out to block roads in the town on a demonstration, but it has, at some point, to be paid for.
Not that this is a real worry. There are mechanisms in force to allow the banks to carry your debt for years longer than they would to oblige people in any other sector, so you can carry on regardless.
Is it then.....the ISF?
The Impot de Solidarite sur la Fortune is payable by those with a personal fortune of 790,000 Euros.....house, shares, land, whatever, with a discount on the value of the principal residence.
Larger farms would easily come within the reach of this tax.....but, of course, they don't. They are exonerated.....until the farmer comes to retire!
Not to worry....let but the farmer...or any other person subject to the ISF.... invest 50,000 Euros in a company not quoted on the Paris bourse and the discount on the ISF will be such...according to a friend who was working out the examples offered by the taxman....that until he is mad enough to declare that he is worth over 4,000,000 Euros he will not pay a penny of tax......whereas if he declares 79,001 Euros he will be liable to pay 6 Euros.
The mind boggles...well, mine does.
I still find it incredible, but friend assures me she was sober, can count on her fingers and can read French.
So what is 'wearing' about the farmer's life? What entitles him to yet another privilege to add to those of
a) polluting his neighbourhood with chemicals.....
b) blighting the landscape with his industrial buildings....
c) invading supermarkets to check what meat they are stocking...
d) relative freedom to build a house anywhere on his land while the rest of us fight a losing battle with the planning department to paint our shutters grey in a blue shutter area...
e) a light tax burden....
f) the delight of messing up other peoples' arrangements by driving at a snail's pace through towns to register his displeasure at not having enough of
g) grants, subsidies, baksheesh, bribes...call them what you will.
I call it money transferred from my pocket to farmers' pockets via government.
As far as I can see, the farmers' only claim to special treatment is that they will make a nuisance of themselves if they don't get it.
So what's new?
I am aware that, like Mr. Dick in David Copperfield, I have my King Charles' head...and French farmers are it.
I am aware that not all are greedy polluters...but a great many are.
I am aware that upland farmers have difficulties not faced by their cereal growing brothers....let them do something about the appallingly unrepresentative nature of the French farming lobby.
In fact,let the whole pot and boiling of them be made to live in the conditions that face less protected sectors...where if your business is badly run, or faces adverse economic circumstances, it goes down.
It might concentrate their minds and keep them off the streets.