Farmers Reflect France's Rage at EU Efforts

Article excerpt

PARIS - French farmers went on a rampage this week, destroying thousands of tons of imported fruits and vegetables in a nationalistic fervor that threatens to influence the upcoming legislative elections.

From Brittany to Marseille, the farmers complained that low-priced imports were undercutting French produce.

Agriculture Minister Philippe Vasseur called on agro-industry leaders not to forget "that we are part of the European Union and that we export more to Spain than we import from that country."

The farmers' desire for protection indicates that the election has become a referendum on the process of European integration.

President Jacques Chirac called the surprise elections in late April, hoping that the Gaullist Rally for the Republic party, led by Premier Alain Juppe, would win a new mandate.

Mr. Juppe wants to push through spending cuts and other austerity measures necessary if France is to be among the first set of countries to join the single European currency, the euro, in 1999.

Since his 1995 election, Mr. Chirac has sought to convince France that globalization of the economy is a reality and that the best way to confront the phenomenon is from a strong position within a united Europe.

Economic reforms accompanied by reductions in the welfare state implemented by Mr. Juppe's government in the last two years are presented by Mr. Chirac as necessary medicine if France is to be a leading member of "a strong European Union" that will be "a major economic power, with a euro equal to the dollar or the yen."

The principal opposition parties, led by Socialist Lionel Jospin, do not dispute the need for further integration of the 15-member European Union. But Mr. Jospin insists that further belt tightening is unacceptable.

The treaty creating the euro demands that governments cut budget deficits to 3 percent of gross national product by the end of 1997. With unemployment hovering near a postwar high of 13 percent and economic growth stagnant, this criterion leaves the French government little room to maneuver. …