President Sarkozy is calling today on "peasants"--a rather quaint word to apply to the agrobusinessmen whose affections he will be attempting to win back. Farmers' income fell 34% in 2009 after a decrease of 20% in 2008, so these people are hurting. They used to be among Sarko's most enthusiastic backers: he enjoyed an 87% approval rating in this category just after his election, but this is now down to 47%. He is in grain-growing territory today (the Essonne), and one problem here, in addition to a collapse of world grain prices, is due to government policy itself: a decision to shift EU subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy from grain-growers to animal breeders. This was a consequence of trying to outguess the markets.
Once there were plans afoot to redo the CAP altogether, but talk of this has vanished in the wake of the crisis--another instance of "reform" succumbing not to the "conservatisms" that Sarkozy likes to depict as the enemy but to "emergency." It's not clear what he can say to appease the farmers, who have already struck at key symbols of Sarkozysme: they parked their tractors in front of Fouquet's and dumped hay outside the Élysée.
At least this time he will probably come with a new speech, instead of recycling an old one, as he did in a previous meeting with agricultural groups. But the best he can do is to promise an attempt to sacrifice as little as possible to the conflagration. Nevertheless, French agriculture seems certain to emerge from the crisis somewhat shrunken as a result of intensified competition. French identity will suffer yet another small wound, but nothing like the trauma of the "rural exodus" of generations past. And the UMP will lose votes.