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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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Asking for Help at Well-Established Platforms Local political groups initially voiced their concerns at the various department levels. The Conseil Général Hérault, the most powerful Conseil of the five regions, which also contained the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon, Montpellier, had heated discussions on the issue of viticulture, in which the viticultural groups showed themelves to be fairly well-informed of what was happening in Brussels, if perhaps misguided about the changes the French national government could and was willing to make there. The Communists, who were the dominant political party in French southern farming areas, spoke directly about the Community being the problem, and insisted the French national government was using it as a pretext for industrial interests, as ‘L’Europe est un pretexte pour favouriser les entreprises multinationales au detriment des petits cultivateurs….Ils preconisent le retrait de la France du marché européen viticole….Leur hostilité declarée à l’Europe doit composer avec leur alliances socialistes et radicales….’11 The Independents wanted the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State to open a dialogue as to how necessary it would be to continue to take Europe into account as regarded actions for resolving the crisis in the Midi. Viticultural leaders, particularly from Hérault and Aude, believed that the crisis was a direct ‘conséquence d’un choix politique en faveur de l’Europe.’12 Perhaps most alarming was that moderate leaders, especially those heads of coopératives, were beginning to align themselves with more radical ones, as they were no longer able to deal with their unsold surpluses. But these groups still showed considerable concern for the chain of command; the Préfet responded to their concerns with three points that were by this Telegram from Préfet Région Languedoc-Roussillon to the Prime Minister, Minister of State, Minister of the Interior, Minister of the Economy and Finance, and the Minister of Agriculture. Undated (very likely January 16, 1976). 19920339/4, AN.


point hardly novel – that the decisions the government was undertaking with continued negotiations, the tax, and the discussion on creating a national office of wine were ‘le maximum face aux réglements Européens’13, that these national policies were in favour of small and medium property-owning vignerons (this would not have been an easy point to make, given the emphasis on modernising farms, which often take place through knitting together smaller, less inefficient ones), and that they favoured a policy of quality. These rather feeble replies were however still accorded ‘la plus grande attention et courtoisement saluées’14 by the gathered parties.

On November 22, 1975, at the meeting of the Fédération Nationale des Producteurs des Vins de Table et de Vins de Pays (both FVTP and FNPVTP are used variously as acronyms – the former will be used throughout this work), the viticultural leaders asked the government for either the total ban on the entry of Italian wines into France, or a minimum tax of 12.50 francs per hectolitre-degree, with the threat that ‘des actions particulièrement violentes risquent d'être déclenchées, à brève échéance dans tout le midi viticole.’15 Their heightened determination stemmed from their feeling that they were ‘conscients de lutter pour leur survie’16 against the Italians and charged that the Italians were attempting to bring about ‘la ruine des vins français de consommation courante en vue de se substituer, dans les cinq ans, à notre production nationale.’17 These demands were impossible, however, for the government to comply with, without breaking Community commitments. Almost as if in an effort to preemptively respond in kind, the FAVF told the Ministry of Agriculture that in fact it was the Ibid.


'Les viticulteurs méridionaux demandent une plus grande rigueur à l'égard des importations de vins italiens, faute de quoi une violente agitation ne manquera pas de se produire à brève échéance'. Internal Ministry of Agriculture report on the November 20, 1975 meeting of the general assembly of the Fédération Nationale des Producteurs de Vins de Table et Vins de Pays. November 22, 1975. 19920339/4, AN.



Italians who were in contravention of their Community duties, insisting the they were practicing ‘dumping’ and vaguely stating that the Italian government unfairly gave substantial aid to their vignerons (as did the French!).

–  –  –

With no movement forthcoming from the French government, a group of Midi leaders in existing local groups, along with some of their committed followers, came together and planned through December and January 1975 to undertake serious action to make their cause known. Working thoroughly and carefully on a local level, and calling themselves the Comité regional d’action viticole, CRAV officials distributed pamphlets18 via ‘tous les responsables de village’19 with the intention of gathering together all professional groups ‘of the region’ to prepare for mass demonstrations. The aggressive pamphlet requested first that each cave cooperative make its intentions known, before distributing sheets to each of their members (those not belonging to a coopérative could directly reply on the individual sheet).

The cave coopérative form, which was to be returned to the Fédération des Caves Coopératives de l’Hérault, acting on behalf of CRAV, asked whether or not the cooperatives agreed to different actions, including demonstrations, the refusal to pay the Mutualité Sociale Agricole, and the total refusal to discipline or control their members. The individual reply sheet asked for one thing only: a signature by the statement that the viticulteur had the intention to follow CRAV’s agenda for the defense of viticulture. They were collecting this information to differentiate between those who were indifferent, ‘chez qui une intervention


VILLAGE.' 19920339/4, AN.


amicale sera faite’20, and those who refused to show their solidarity, who would be shamed out of the business community ‘en bloquant toutes leurs demands et tous les services qui pourraient leur être rendus par les organismes professionnels existant dans les villages….’21.

CRAV had likely been operating from around the spring of 1965, though very little is known about them.22 They continued to be active in the late 1970s, and then appeared to become dormant. They reappeared in 1998, or more likely, viticultural leaders in the Midi borrowed the name, face, and legacy of CRAV when periods of particularly high tensions were faced again, and continually engaged in attacks, threats of assassinations, and even bombings for the next decade. One of their first attempts to work outside of a regional context and address those at a national level was an open letter to French Minister of Agriculture Christian Bonnet on July 30, 1975. In it, they claimed he was doing too little and what little he was doing was simply to ‘ward off the blows, get a few crumbs not to lose face’ and accused him of endorsing the proposals of the Commission’s ‘stateless senior officials [who are] far from the problems’; casting doubt on his professionalism, they told him that he was trying to ‘save his own position without taking the personal initiative to save the future of southern viticulteurs.’23 CRAV blamed Bonnet for not defending the interests of the vignerons in Brussels and menacingly concluded: ‘Voulez-vous pousser les viticulteurs de Midi à bout après les avoir sacrifiées aux échanges intra et extra communautaires. Sur ce sujet vous êtes moins loquace. Aujourd'hui nous en avons assez de vos “boutades”, il vous faut prouver votre sérieux et votre compétence ou vous serez renvoyé au “vestiaire”’.24 Ibid.


When Andrew Smith’s PhD thesis is made publically available, a great deal will undoubtedly be known about CRAV. His thesis, entitled The Comité Régional d'Action Viticole (CRAV): Regional identity, violence and the challenges of modernisation in the Languedoc (1944-1992), submitted at the end of 2013 to Queen Mary University, was unavailable at the time of writing.

Open letter from le Comité régional d'Action viticole to Christian Bonnet. July 30, 1975. 19920339/4, AN.


CRAV blamed both the French government and the European Community for the problems they were facing: ‘L’Administration de la viticulture et de la répression des fraudes étant indispensable à la moralisation du marché viticole, les viticulteurs du Midi ne supportent plus la discrimination qui leur est faite tant que partout en France et dans la C.E.E. les mêmes côntroles ne seront pas mis en place. En cas de contrôle surprise la sirène ou les cloches du village serviront à mobiliser les agriculteurs au travail sur leurs exploitations qui devront à ce signal rentrer immédiatement au village’.25 They acted by moving as locally as possible – distribution of various pamphlets and posters through cantons, to villages, and directly to caves coopératives. All problems were to be directed toward the official at the lowest level of CRAV – the local representative.

Their interest was clearly regional – ‘vous n’ignorez pas les difficultés de plus en plus grandes de la viticulture de notre région’ – and expressed their disappointment with the last meeting they had had with Prime Minister Jacques Chirac. Without their two requests being granted, ‘LA GARANTIE DE REVENUE par une garantie de prix rénumérateur, et la MAITRISE DES IMPORTATIONS italiennes, véritable concurrence déloyale’, they insisted they had no option but to ‘AGIR et REAGIR, tous ensemble, afin d’obtenir du gouvernement français les mesures nécessaires demandées par le syndicalisme pour compenser la pénalisation que la Communauté fait subir à l’agriculture de notre région’.26 Though the level and intensity of violence CRAV introduced was novel and unprecedented, the Midi was no stranger to the French proclivity for striking. The 1970s was even the beginning of what the French socialist historian Stéphane Sirot has called the ‘troisième âge


VILLAGE.' 19920339/4, AN.


de la grève’ – one in which strikes were institutionalised and characterised by both their immediacy and brevity.27 In February 1970, during the final stages of negotiations for the CWP, vignerons from the three ‘capitales du gros rouge’, Carcassonne, Montpellier, and Perpignan, protested against the special privileged relationship that Algeria was going to have with the Community pertaining the import of their wines when the CWP came into effect.

The general feeling of hopeful, if tentative, expectation that the CWP might open up new markets that was prevalent amongst many of the Languedocien vignerons28 was not shared by CRAV members, then still a small group, even if gaining in number. In May, they protested against the coming into force of the Common Market for wine, set for 15 June 1970. In January 1971, violence broke out anew when viticulteurs very likely associated with CRAV barred the roads of the Midi to protest both against ‘la mévente de leurs produits’29 and against foreign imports from Algeria and Italy. In February 1971, more than 80,000 viticulteurs in the Languedoc-Roussillon protested against the ‘marasme sur le marché du vin.’30 In April, they then forcibly barred the roads at the border to imports from Italy and Spain on the grounds they these were part of ‘la concurrence internationale déloyale’31.

But while their counterparts in other agricultural or industrial syndicates were able to use their newly entrenched positions to leverage the government into action through demands followed by strikes, the wine industry was less able to effect their desired response even in mobilising in this way. Where the absence of a service provided is not immediately felt, the power is greatly taken out of a strike movement. Sète was as close to achieving the effects of a ‘strike’ as the vignerons could get. While this got them attention, it did not get them the changes they desired, though they helped intensify the atmosphere. They continued therefore Stéphane Sirot, La grève en France (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2002).

Loubère, The Wine Revolution in France, 134.

La Journée Vinicole, March 6, 1976.



with a combination of violence and demonstrations, which followed the same pattern until

1976. The situation was so alarming at this point that at a secret meeting to discuss the wine situation at the Matignon on December 12, 1975 with President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Minister of Finance Jean-Pierre Fourcade, Bonnet, and Bonnet’s secretary of state JeanFrançois Deniau, it was decided that despite the public embarrassment of the continuing illegal tax, the French government would continue to keep the tax in full effect until the European Court of Justice had actually made a ruling.32 Both Deniau and Prime Minister Barre were former European Commissioners, so top French leadership could hardly be accused of not knowing how the EEC rules functioned. The crisis in Languedoc-Roussillon was one of the only three points discussed; they were the only region discussed or mentioned at all by name.

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