PARIS - Facing France’s worst agriculture crisis in 30 years, President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged yesterday to provide $1.5 billion in bank loans for cash-strapped farmers and promised to push the European Union to offer more aid.
Sarkozy said the unprecedented aid package was in response to an equally unprecedented crisis in French farming, which has seen prices for production shrink 20 percent over the last year as demand decreased amid the global credit crunch.
Sarkozy spoke at a meeting with farmers in the Jura region of eastern France. Besides loans, Sarkozy also pledged $965 million in other aid for the country’s farmers, one of the conservative president’s core supporters in the last election.
The aid announcement comes after weeks of protests by farmers in France and across Europe, upset at falling prices for milk, cereals, and other agricultural commodities.
France is Europe’s largest agricultural producer, with total output last year valued at about $96.7 billion out of an EU total of $528 billion. Agriculture makes up 1.5 percent of France’s gross domestic product. “Agriculture is a strategic sector that is absolutely vital to our national identity,’’ Sarkozy said.
His announcement also has political overtones. Polls show Sarkozy’s support is declining ahead of regional elections in March.
The French announcement of more farm aid comes two days before a summit of European Union government leaders in Brussels. Sarkozy said that he will press the EU Commission at that meeting to speed up its revamping of dairy rules.