French farmers are promising a long hot summer of protest over demands to repay several hundred million euros in subsidies. The EU has ruled that the payments, made over 10 years to fruit and vegetable producers, broke competition rules. It is estimated that with interest and penalties the total amount owed could come to around 500 million euros.
French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said: “We’re going to negotiate on several points. Firstly, on the exact amount: it included some aid that I don’t think was illegal. So I hope to reduce the total so that we’ll only have to repay what was effectively illegal.”
While Paris is trying to negotiate with Brussels, the government has said it will start recovering the money in September.
Farmers leaders are taking a firm line. Yves Aris of the FDSEA union said: “Repayment is out of the question. They would have to explain to us in what way we could pay it back given the financial crisis affecting the entire fruit and vegetable industry at this time.”
Farmers have already been protesting this summer over falling incomes and have warned of even greater unrest if the government tries to force them to make repayments.