On February 8th the official results of elections to the French Chambers of Agriculture were released by the Ministry of Agriculture. Such an election takes place every seven years as farmers elect their departmental representatives to the Chambers of Agriculture. These representatives are responsible for promoting the farming community interests in front of public authorities and for driving the departmental and regional farming policy.
In contrast with the German Chambers of Agriculture which are regional public bodies, French farmers elect their representatives within trade union lists. Four main lists were proposed:
- FNSEA/Young farmers organization (the COPA/CEJA alliance)
- Confédération Paysanne (left wing, Via Campesina)
- Coordination Rurale (right wing, FNSEA dissidents from 1992)
- Modef (family farms trade union)
It is worth noting however, that although the Chambers are driven by trade union lists, the challenges agriculture faces today are broader. Economic and environmental issues for example are increasingly the preserve of farming cooperatives and NGOs.
In 2007, FNSEA represented 55.19%, Confédération Paysanne 19.63, Coordination Rurale 18.7% and Modef less than 3%. This time FNSEA reached 53.39%. With 20.49%, Coordination Rurale reached second place, and Confederation Paysanne came in third with 18.54%. Modef received just 1.47%.
The participation rate of farmers in this election fell by more than 10% compared to 2007 and reached 54.34% against 65.5% 6 years ago.
According to a poll of 1000 farmers in the La France Agricole media, the rise of abstention is the result of the following factors:
- growing disinterest in public affairs (17.08%)
- disinterest in the Chambers of Agriculture (23.12%)
- disinterest in the agricultural trade unionism (35.84%)
Despite a high level of participation – higher than the majority of professional elections with 3 million farmers and other professionals traditionally being voters – the representation system of farmers is facing a crisis of legitimacy.
According to Philippe Collin, spokesman of the Confédération Paysanne, abstention is the sign of a questioning of the Chambers of Agriculture utility. The latter is not only an agricultural institution but also an advisory service to farmers which is in charge of the CAP reform implementation in the territories, including the internal convergence of subsidies among regions and among farmers. An explosive debate for future chambers of agriculture representatives.
Among the farming territories, income and direct aids gaps are growing between breeders and farmers (arable crops sector), which mean an emerging shift between regions. The 2012 average farm income estimation highlighted the huge gap between the arable land farmholdings which reached the €72,100 record, so five times more than cattle breeders (€15,400).