Riot police move to calm French winemakers' protest

By Chris Mercer in Narbonne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union

Militant winemakers attacked train and phone lines in southern
France Wednesday as thousands of fellow vintners protested through
the streets at the crisis they say is strangling their industry.

The attacks, which took place just outside Narbonne, forced rail authorities to cancel or seriously delay most passenger trains between Beziers and the Spanish border. A telecommunications installation was also hit, shutting down mobile network SFR.

Several thousand French winemakers, meanwhile, marched peacefully yet noisily through Narbonne at the same time as others in Beziers, Nimes and Avignon, to publicise the crisis hitting France's wine sector and ask the government for more aid.

Riot police moved in with tear gas volleys late in the afternoon as a few dozen winemakers and local anarchists began setting fire to bins and threatened to cause damage in the city centre.

"Today we are asking the government for more help. Most importantly we need to reduce winemakers' debts,"​ said Pascal Frissant of agricultural union Confederation Paysanne.

"There are households down here with no more money to give. They cannot even afford to pay back the banks. We must find a solution to get more money to these people and their businesses."

Many local dignatories, including the mayor of Narbonne and the bishop of Carcassonne turned out to support the winemakers' cause.

All winemakers who spoke to​ said the crisis engulfing French wine was the worst they had known.

Local unions estimated some vintners were losing more than €2,000 per hectare of vines thanks to crumbling prices - brought on by falling wine consumption in France, a wine market glut and increased competition from New World wines.

The problems have led to a series of attacks by militant vintner group CRAV on foreign wine installations across Languedoc Roussillon.

One riot police chief from Narbonne said on Wednesday: "We have to manage the situation to uphold the law, but they have a right to protest and to vent their frustration. There have not been too many problems today."

As winemakers protested, however, the European Commission was busy arranging a crisis meeting of more than 100 industry experts to discuss ways of solving overproduction in parts of Europe.

The meeting, which takes place today (Thursday), will especially focus on the funds handed out annually by the European Union to distil excess wine into spirits, and also extra 'crisis' money given to turn wine into industrial alcohol.

France has already said it wants more European Union crisis money this year. But, a Commission spokesperson previously told​ France may have to make stronger commitments to sort out its industry if it wanted more aid.

The French will rip up around 16,000 hectares of vines, around two per cent of the total, this year as part of efforts to restructure the sector.

The European Commission is, however, expected to unveil proposals for a full-scale reform of the common wine market later this year.

Related topics Markets Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cider

Related news

Show more