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A French "Non" a boon for English country life

Friday 27 May 2005

Our countryside commentator John Sheard apologises once again for talking politics but claims that a "Non" vote in this weekend's French referendum on the proposed EU constitution would be a triumph for British country folk

ONCE AGAIN, I feel obliged to apologise for dragging politics into the countryside - the British countryside in general, that is, and the countryside of the Yorkshire Dales in particular. But hateful as it is to say it, our future will be drastically affected this weekend by the French.

Now this is not new. The French were milking the EEC dry even before Britain joined the then Common Market 30-odd years ago and have been doing so ever since. This weekend will decide whether they will continue to do so in the future.

They go to the polls this Sunday to vote in the referendum on a new French-written constitution for the enlarged 25-member state European Union which is a thinly disguised attempt to keep power in the hands of the French and their political lackies the Germans.


Amazingly enough, the opinion polls suggest that the electorate may actually vote "Non" for a bewildering array of reasons but mainly because they are fed up to the back teeth the antics of President Chirac who, considering the number of corruption charges against him, might deserve to be in jail rather than the Elysee Palace.

The Dutch vote in a similar referendum next week and the polls suggest they may vote No, too, but for clearer reasons. Like the British, they are afraid of handing even more national power to faceless (and often corrupt) bureaucrats in Brussels.

Now what on earth has this got to do with life in the Yorkshire Dales, I hear you ask. The answer is: plenty and not just the money in your wallet or purse. For an even stronger EU tyranny could change the way we work, the way our wildlife lives or dies, even the very appearance of our landscape.

It is the French, you see, who have been milking the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for decades. French peasant farmers, and the politicians who buy their votes with bribes, have grown fat whilst Europe produced food mountains and wine lakes which no-one wanted to buy.

To keep in business, British farmers had to play by similar rules, which meant our countryside was severely damaged by intensive agriculture that benefited the consumer very little: our cheese and meat prices (particularly lamb) are the highest in the world.

Now, after years of argument led by Britain, CAP is being reformed. Here. More money will spent on the environment. Here. But not in France - whose farmers receive ten times the amount of subsidy as ours - nor in Germany, because these two nations have postponed these reforms for another decade.

What's more, they want to increase the amount of cash the nation states give to the EU, not reduce it. So that even more can be doled out to French peasants and part-time German farmers - few people understand that it is quite common in rural Germany for a man to work in a factory by day and tend a (subsidised) small holding in the evening.

A "Oui" vote in France this weekend - which I think is likely, because the French have more to lose than any other EU nation - will mean even more cash being ripped from the heart of our countryside to ensure that continental politicians stay in office. For once, I wish I were wrong...

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