La Grande Nation and Agriculture: The Power of French Farmers Demystified

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Series Details Vol.35, No.2, March 2012, p266-285
Publication Date March 2012
ISSN 0140-2382
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France is considered a strong state, but French governments have always fiercely defended the interests of French farmers in European and global negotiations. Why would a ‘strong state’ be unable to resist farm lobby pressure? Is agriculture an exception to the French ‘strong state’ rule?

This article offers a structural model of varying state sensitivity to interest group pressure, and argues that farm lobby pressure cannot fully explain French foreign policy on agriculture, as governments often go against farmers' preferences and as the level of pressure varies more than the continuity of governmental preferences. From an analysis of the negotiations on the CAP and the GATT in the 1960s and in the 1990s it emerges that ideational constraints played a major role in French obstinacy. The defence of French identity as La Grande Nation, necessitating a presence in world agricultural markets, and the defence of a strong Europe under French leadership as a counterweight to the United States, have guided French preferences without regard to the farmers' positions.

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