Comment - CRAV wine militants "warn" French president

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Militant French winemakers, known as the Comité Régional d'Action Viticole (CRAV), are ramping up the pressure for Government aid for their sector, but their methods and their reasoning look increasingly out of step. 

"This is a resistance movement," an ex-leader of the Comité Régional d'Action Viticole (CRAV) told me during my time covering the militant group in Languedoc Roussillon a few years ago.

Having never heard of militant winemakers before, I took an interest in the group, meeting a number of its associates and learning about its roots.

CRAV has returned to action this autumn with a series of attacks on supermarkets, wine merchants and cooperatives, including the use of makeshift bombs, although these are largely ineffective in causing major damage. So far, no one has been hurt.

In short, this is all about gaining Government protection for the lower market end of French wine, and demands range from tax breaks to a minimum price for producers. Languedoc Roussillon's patchwork of small wine cooperatives and lower end producers have been feeling the pinch, many cannot turn a profit and there is fear that the modern wine world has no place for them. They may well be right.

Members claiming to be part of CRAV appeared in balaclavas on local French television over the weekend, a media strategy tried and tested by every militant movement in the 24-hour news era.

A masked man closest to the camera describes how the wine sector is "dying" and that such violent actions are the only way "to make ourselves heard". There will be more where that come from if French president Nicolas Sarkozy doesn't listen; "beware the anger of the wine sector and agriculture workers in general," he says.

Firstly, this television appearance draws highly distasteful comparisons with terrorist organisations that have committed mass murder in several countries. From a business point of view, that makes it a whopping public relations disaster.

Secondly, while CRAV has been active intermittently since the 1950s and has, on occasion, secured aid from French agriculture ministers, times have changed. There is no longer the same kind of tolerance for this kind of action.

Promisingly for the image of Languedoc and French wine, CRAV has been increasingly pushed to the fringes of the local wine sector. Only a few years ago, it had sympathisers in senior positions in a majority of the local winemakers' unions, but these people are gradually being replaced by a younger generation more in tune with how the world works.

However, tension is clearly running high and we can probably expect a few more actions in the next few weeks or early next year. There will be a mass winemaker protest in Montpellier on Wednesday 25 November.

To see the latest CRAV video, in French, click here.


Sectors: Wine

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