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In place of strife

Published:  18 January, 2007

The French Minister of Agriculture, Dominique Bussereau, must wonder what he did to upset his boss, Jacques Chirac. After all, it was Chirac who handed him what must be the least enviable portfolio of any minister in Europe since Barbara Castle was told to curb the unions in the late 1960s.

Like Castle, Bussereau is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. On the one hand, he must understand that French agriculture is in dire need of reform if it is to compete in an increasingly globalised economy, and that the current number of farmers working in the country is unsustainable. On the other hand, Bussereau is also aware that those very farmers remain a massive part of the electorate in a country whose economy remains reliant on agriculture.

On the strength of his opening address at Vinexpo, however, Bussereau's reaction has been as ineffectual as his predecessors'. The speech paid lip service to reforms that have been on the table for some time, but offered no details of how they should be carried out. Perhaps Bussereau is aware of what happened to Castle, whose political career never fully recovered from the collapse of her proposals to reform labour relations. But, given the level of discontent in French vineyards at the moment, he would do well to remember what followed Castle's failure - a decade of industrial strife in the 1970s and the devastation of heavy industry in the '80s - and that a lack of action will do more harm than doing nothing at all.