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French legislative elections: Farmers rely on Europe, but are tempted by far right

Far-right National Rally leader Jordan Bardella meets farmers as he visits a farm in Chuelles, 137 kms (85 miles) south of Paris, 14 June 2024
Far-right National Rally leader Jordan Bardella meets farmers as he visits a farm in Chuelles, 137 kms (85 miles) south of Paris, 14 June 2024 Copyright AP Photo/Thibault Camus
Copyright AP Photo/Thibault Camus
By Isabelle Repiton
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The farmers Euronews spoke to in Braslou, a village of 315 inhabitants in southern Touraine, shared the feeling familiar among large parts of rural France: they have been forgotten and abandoned by politicians and authorities alike.

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Although the far-right won a large majority in rural France in the European elections on 9 June, French farmers are not its strongest supporters.

And while some are tempted to vote for the National Rally (RN) in the upcoming snap legislative elections, others doubt its ability to work for them and their interests. European subsidies, though criticised, are essential to their survival.

At the entrance to Braslou, a village of 315 inhabitants in southern Touraine, central France, the street sign with the commune's name is still upside down.

It's been like that ever since the farmers' anger set the French and European countryside ablaze earlier this year, a way of showing that "we're walking on our heads," explained one of those who took part in the upheaval in Braslou and the surrounding villages.

Mathieu, a grain farmer, took over from his father to lead a fairly large 270-hectare farm. He is one of a dozen farmers in the commune and also runs an agricultural contracting business, lending his machinery to other farms. A Jeunes Agriculteurs (Young Farmers, JA) union member, politically, he identifies with the RN of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella.

Braslou
BraslouIsabelle Bloncourt Repiton

On 9 June, Mathieu voted for the far right. He did so because he deplores that not all European farmers are subject to the same standards, that certain chemicals banned in France are allowed for use in Spain, and that poorly controlled Ukrainian poultry has invaded the French market.

"I'm not against imports, as long as trade is fair and labelling transparent," Mathieu told Euronews.

Macron MP liked for her ability to listen

However, on Sunday, he is not against voting to reappoint Fabienne Colboc, a member of parliament from Emmanuel Macron's Renaissance.

According to Mathieu, Colboc is "accessible, often on the ground, very active and attentive" to the small working group formed with about 20 other farmers to monitor the implementation of measures promised by Macron and his government after the winter crisis. Colboc has hosted them in her Paris office and taken them to school canteens to see in person where the food they've grown ends up.

However, Macron's decision to dissolve the National Assembly has halted all of that work in progress, something Mathieu hopes will resume after the vote.

Far-right National Rally leader Jordan Bardella meets farmers as he visits a farm in Chuelles, 137 kms (85 miles) south of Paris, 14 June 2024
Far-right National Rally leader Jordan Bardella meets farmers as he visits a farm in Chuelles, 137 kms (85 miles) south of Paris, 14 June 2024AP Photo

While he said he was against "Macronism", he explained: "If I vote for my beliefs, I will vote RN. But if I want to defend my profession, I vote for her. The current government has followed our demands". He doubted the ability of the RN candidate, whom he didn't know, to listen to and defend farmers.

Mathieu has not forgotten that the Identity and Democracy (ID) group to which the RN belongs in the European Parliament voted in favour of the free trade agreements with New Zealand. The 15 French RN MEPs voted against it, but this has sown doubt.

What's more, the local RN candidate isn't organising any public meetings in the area, and the far-right party barely mentions having any agricultural plans on its agenda. "We vote for someone we feel close to, someone we can talk to," Mathieu explained.

At the European elections, in all rural areas of France, RN came close to gaining 40% of the vote, more than 8 points higher than the country as a whole. In Braslou, RN obtained 25.4% of the vote on 9 June, while the party led by Le Pen's niece Marion Maréchal had 7.5%. This adds to a total of 32.9% for the far right, or slightly less than the national average (36.8%).

Europe, a necessary evil

Historically, the majority of farmers always voted for the traditional right, not the far right. In the European elections, they gave 26% of their votes to the RN, less than the French population as a whole.

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In Braslou, Sylvain, who has been growing organic grains on about 150 hectares of his land since 2012, didn't vote in the European elections, like 49% of French voters.

The disastrous spring weather meant he didn't have the time. He had to sow to catch up. As for the legislative elections, he's not sure of anything.

Without European aid, he would have to shut down his farm, he told Euronews. But if "prices reflected our production costs, we wouldn't need this aid. We need to be able to make a living from our trade. I want to defend my income," he added.

Marine Le Pen speaks to the media during a visit to an offshore wind turbine project to generate electricity, in Erquy, western France.
Marine Le Pen speaks to the media during a visit to an offshore wind turbine project to generate electricity, in Erquy, western France.AP Photo

Organic but not green

A little further down the road, Magali and her husband, third-generation organic farmers, strive to maintain a diversified production on 137 hectares: different grains — wheat, flax, sunflower, spelt, millet and others — semi-free-range pigs, and calves, some of which they sell directly to consumers. They employ two people.

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Magali also believes that farm-made income was the real source of the crisis at the beginning of the year. "The European CAP (common agricultural policy) is just compensating for the fact that we're selling at a loss. And France is adding further limitations, such as satellite overflights of organic crops to monitor them," she told Euronews.

"This requires a state-of-the-art smartphone and a specialised app to connect (to the satellite). And Emmanuel Macron believes that digital technology will save agriculture," she argued, convinced that traditional conventional agriculture, based on chemical fertilisers, will eventually die out on its own.

Without saying who she'd vote for, she ruled out voting for the Greens, who are too dogmatic in her eyes — they oppose ploughing, for example. "Fear of the RN is not the way forward," Magali added.

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