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Nicolas Sarkozy sees destiny in agriculture

Nicolas Sarkozy (2ndR), head of France's Les Republicains political party and former French President, speaks with farmers as he visits the International Agricultural Show in Paris, France, March 2, 2016.
Nicolas Sarkozy (2ndR), head of France's Les Republicains political party and former French President, speaks with farmers as he visits the International Agricultural Show in Paris, France, March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has made an impassioned appeal to save France's agricultural industry from decline. During a walkabout at the annual agriculture fair in Paris on Wednesday, he hit out at the Socialist government for abandoning farmers and called for a new regime. Last week, Socialist leader François Hollande was booed as he tried to make his way through the food and trade stalls, in a sign of the growing crisis affecting farmers.

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"It is urgent that we help farmers and change our president," Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters at France's annual agriculture fair on Wednesday, urging for the creation of a 'Marshall plan' to help struggling farmers.

"I don't know if it's a coincidence, but since François Hollande came to power, we have fallen from fifth to third place in terms of exports. And our trade balance is now 8 billion instead of 10 billion euros," the ex-president said taking a dig at the Socialist leader, who was booed by farmers last week.

Falling food prices and declining sales to China have forced hundreds to abandon the industry, farmers' unions claim.

The Annual agriculture fair is seen as a springboard to iron out their grievances, while providing ambitious politicians the opportunity to burnish their farm credibility, made virtually compulsory by the earthy president Jacques Chirac.

This year, Sarkozy didn't put a foot wrong, and enjoyed buoyant crowds instead of harrasment. As seen in 2008, when he told a bystander to "get lost" because he refused to shake his hand.

But six years out of power is enough time to repent, and the ex-president seems to have learnt his lesson. This time there were no jeers, but selfie requests...

Sarkozy indeed, was among the star attractions of the farm fair, besides the strutting cows and prize pigs. And he seized the limelight to announce his intentions for his Republicains party's upcoming primaries, with a decision "some time around July."

Now a veritable beauty political contest, the farm fair has seen visits from Marine Le Pen and François Fillon. Any serious politician who is anybody has the Salon de l'Agriculture jotted in their calendar.

With elections just 15 months away, the glad-handing and cow patting is virtually compulsory. But farmers' unions don't want just idle promises or selfies, they want real results.

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