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«The London School of Economics and Political Science Wine In Their Veins: France and the European Community’s Common Wine Policy, 1967-1980 Maria ...»

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During the initial decade of the Common Wine Policy, government initiatives and major sociological trends collided to cause years of anxiety and frustration for many French vignerons. The place where this was most dramatically felt was in the region of LanguedocRoussillon, which historically produced a great deal of French table wine, and whose four wine-producing areas1 – Aude, Hérault, Gard and Pyrénées-Orientales – also had a reputation for fiercely independent vignerons. Throughout the latter half of the 1970s, the adverse effects of the CWP caused vignerons to begin agitating for change through local and regional groups while they also adjusted to the new, still shifting order of power between the European Community and its member states. The European Community introduced another bureaucracy to French farmers, which for the vignerons in the Midi propelled the fast growth of local groups, such as syndicates, to disseminate information to help farmers better cope with the many ensuing legislative and practical changes.

The exposure to global political processes via the Community meant that affected regions were under pressure to adapt. In this context, where regions had a strong attachment to a particular way of life or cultural objects (in this case, wine-growing not only as a profession but as an extended social practice, and wine as not only the main produce of the area, but as a celebrated regional and national symbol), these changes forced a re-examination and renegotiation of self and profession. The outcome of this process for the vignerons of the Midi was a trend of increased regionalism, even with exposure to and, in a more limited way, engagement with, decision-making on the national and supranational levels.

This process is explained in two chapters – this first chapter looks at the immediate reaction of vignerons in Languedoc-Roussillon to the Franco-Italian wine crisis in 1975 and then the It may be useful here to recall from the introduction that the formal name for each of these political units is département. The region of Languedoc-Roussillon actually has five départements, but the fifth, Lozère, produces negligible amounts of wine. Often, ‘Languedoc’ is used as a shorthand to mean the wines in the general area of the south as France (similarly, so is the term ‘Midi’). This is because the historical province of Languedoc contained Aude, Hérault, and the Gard, which together produces the vast majority of the wine in Languedoc-Roussillon. But it is also because the term ‘Roussillon’ in ‘Languedoc-Roussillon’ is actually a nod to the history of the general area, as the historical Roussillon, long since abolished under the ancien régime, roughly corresponded to the modern département of the Pyrénées-Orientales, which through organic and repeated grouping and association, became amalgamated with Languedoc.

ultimately unsuccessful efforts of the French government, through 1975 and until the end of 1976, to respond in a way that satisfied their constituents in the south. The second chapter then looks at the reorganisation of political relationships between local and regional wine groups, Paris, and Brussels from 1977–1979 in the midst of a breakdown in the relationship between the French national government and the Midi table wine producers.

Enthusiasm alongside Trepidation in the Midi at the Introduction of the Common Wine

–  –  –

The Common Wine Policy’s creation was at first greeted with enthusiasm, though not without murmurs of skepticism. Languedoc-Roussillon was a place where many still proudly clung to regional rural values and championed the Langue d’Oc dialect. The towns were as independent and proud as their vignerons were reputed to be: ‘Le Languedoc-Roussillon est rempli de capitales. Les villes, un peu jalouses les unes des autres, comme les cités grecques, s’y sont développées…sans voir leurs forces vives s’étioler au profit d’une seule, tentaculaire…’. 2 Despite these petty jealousies, the towns of the region together forged a strong sense of regionalism, born out of a sense of victimisation. Through this, there had been a long history of dislike of the centre of power, for which Paris stood as a beacon above all others, a site of bureaucracy and the ‘folie de tous ces Parisiens technocrates’.3 It seemed to those in Languedoc-Roussillon that they had always been marginalised or mistreated by the state, and this was in a way their historical fate. Emmanuel Maffre-Baugé, a major figure in

Midi viticulture, expressed it thus:

Un lien existait-il entre les difficultés économiques que nous subissions et nos origines ethniques?...Certes, des phrases toutes faites venaient à la pensée: les barons du Nord...Simon de Montfort...Toulouse...Queribus...Montségur...les Cathares...l'Inquisition...les dragonnades...l'écrasement des paysans cévenols...Toujours l'Etat, celui de tous les temps, 'Images du Languedoc-Roussillon,' La Journée Vinicole, September 8, 1976 Emmanuel Maffre-Baugé, Vendanges amères (J.-P. Ramsay, 1976).

monarchique ou républicain, avec son comportement restrictif à l'égard des méridionaux, des Sudistes. Brusquement, à la façon des animaux de sable surgissant de leur trou, ces pensées affluaient dans ma tête. Elles s'y promenaient désagréablement, gênant un certain confort intellectual. Connaître à fond ses dossiers économiques est une chose. Aborder ceux-ci selon une nouvelle perception, en fonction d'éléments surajoutés provenant de notre hérédité raciale était bien différent.4 One particular aspect then of the attitude of these vignerons later on, as we shall see, of expecting help from Paris seemed at odds with this independent streak. This was in great part due to the legitimisation of the idea of regional monoculturalism in the region. But the difficulty that faced the southern French viticulteurs that differentiated them from many of their other counterparts across the country lay in the fact that, for all the former’s desire for independence, French vignerons in general have since the mid-nineteenth century been more heavily subject to the influence of national and international trade by virtue of being – and needing to be – well-integrated into the national market.5 Those who had been successful at negotiating this – those in Bordeaux and Champagne, for example – were far removed from the kind of dilemma facing those in the Midi and regarded their war cries as petulant. As one viticulteur from Upper Provence, whose view was ostensibly ‘shared by nearly all producers, from Châteauneuf-du-Pape to as far north as Champagne – a long chain of prosperous

vineyards’, commented:

I’m going to tell you, I’m a peasant, a viticulturist, we are unfortunately inclined to complain, to moan….It’s certain that in Languedoc there were crises there, there were true crises, but to say that they’re always in crisis, there are all the same, some moments when they lived well, they were comfortable. There is a proverb…that runs: ‘Help yourself, and heaven will help you.’ Now, you understand, if you always wait until manna falls, often you’ll miss out. Above all I think, when there are problems, you must tackle them boldly and there’s always a solution to problems. You have to will it, and you must sometimes make some sacrifices...you always hold a part of the solution.6 Maffre-Baugé. Vendanges amères (J.-P. Ramsay, 1976), 94-95.

Loubère et al., The Vine Remembers, 11.

Ibid., 26-27.

The vignerons of the Midi may have been more intertwined with national paths by virtue of their product, largely sold in urban areas, but this did not mean they were outward looking.

Their emphasis, relative to other French vignerons, was far more on adapting what happened on the national plane to their regional needs. But this way of acting faced a pressing need for change when farmers faced the confluence of the reorganisation of the political overhead for their profession, abnormal harvests, and the declining popularity of their product. But French vignerons still held out hope that the new CWP, inaugurated in 1970, would mean an increase in exports via more open markets. As a vigneron put it, ‘In the period preceding the Common Market, they told us, “You know, we must enter the Common Market because you will see the free exchange of your produce, you won’t have any more problems sending a case of wine to Belgium, England, and Germany”’.7 They were to be disappointed.

Both a downturn in the drinking of table wine, which optimists in the European Commission and Council and the affected French wine-growing regions believed incorrectly was temporary, and overly abundant harvests in 1973 and 1974 conspired to make the first few years of the CWP a scramble. As discussed in previous chapters, this scramble was as much for solutions as for an understanding of what the problem was. Unable to clearly pinpoint why these abundant harvests were happening, in the light of a CWP which was liberal with planting rights and loose on production control, the first wave of solutions were temporary band-aids in the form of expensive rounds of emergency distillation and government-funded storage.

The initial belief that these supersized harvests were a natural and occasional problem was replaced with the grim realization, upon examination, of systemic overproduction which was M. Darricade, as interviewed by Leo Loubère in 1978-1979 in ibid., 176.

likely to worsen, most directly in the table wine producing areas of France, of which Languedoc-Roussillon was and is the major part. The first moment of dramatic crisis came when furious French vignerons responded with brute force to an alarming new situation: in the first two months of 1975, at 200 million litres the imports of Italian wine into France were approaching the level of the entirety of wine imports for the previous year. The port at Sète, through which the vast majority of wine exports arrived, ‘a été cernée par les viticulteurs’8, who together with local officials, successfully blocked the unloading of eleven ships carrying Italian table wine for several months.

This incident was considered by protestors as being the direct consequence of the CWP, which was continuing to ‘financer l’entrée de plusiers millions d’hectolitres de vins d’Italie’ – though some darkly speculated that this was also possibly the responsibility of the French government, acting ‘derrière l’écran de Bruxelles’.9 In response, the vignerons of the Languedoc-Roussillon acted in two major ways: through planned violence and demonstrations, largely instigated by the Comité régionale d’action viticole (CRAV), and, more sustainably, by organising more strongly on a local and regional level with the intent to have a united front. What these two broad waves had in common was where they initially directed their expectation of change: viticulteurs lobbied, complained to, and demanded redress of their national representatives, principally expecting the Ministry of Agriculture to solve this problem, and for French representatives in Brussels to fight against the effects of the CWP.

Initially, the majority of French farmers waited on their national government to create solutions for them. With the eyes of the Community’s other member states and those of many 'Sète a été cernée par les viticulteurs,' Midi Libre, February 27, 1975.

'Après la Journée d'action des viticulteurs,' Midi Libre, February 28, 1975.

French vignerons on them, French officials scrambled to appease their citizens first, and respond to Community questions later. Their support of the situation at Sète was, despite their clumsy attempts at hiding it, quite apparent, as detailed in a previous chapter. Their next step was to levy a tax on Italian wines imported into the country. This illegal stop-gap measure, instituted September 10, 1975, temporarily calmed a situation that had become violent – and it was to this that the French government spoke when they attempted to defend their actions.

It was an issue of national security, they exclaimed, and though they may have flirted with the term that they picked up from the vignerons, who began to use it in earnest from early 1976, they did not fully push the case that this was ‘dumping’10 by the Italians.

But the French government knew its position was ultimately untenable – it faced a true dilemma, caught between the obligations they had made at the Community level, which they appeared to be flagrantly flaunting, and the demands of a powerful left-wing bloc of voters who were drawing progressively more attention to their plight. By now the evidence pointed clearly to systemic overproduction, which would grow worse if French vignerons were allowed to keep producing table wine, particularly if that table wine was readily converted to ethyl alcohol or stored, both at government expense. But forcing – or even asking – these proud, heritage-conscious vignerons to abandon wine-making was tantamount to declaring war on table wine. The government was not prepared to do so and decided to approach the situation first in an ad hoc manner.

This is a form of predatory pricing in international trade whereby a country deliberately sets the price of a good below the price set in the domestic market of a competitor. This is done with the intent of having the products flood the other market and be purchased preferentially because of its better price.

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