Chambers of agriculture election results

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Elections to France's départment-level chambers of agriculture were held on 31 January 2001. The Small Farmers' Confederation (Confédération paysanne) made significant gains in the electoral divisions for farmers. There were also considerable gains and losses for trade unions in the employees division - though it is difficult to draw comparisons with previous elections due to major changes in the make-up of the electoral base.

Chambers of agriculture (Chambres d'agriculture) are the state administrative bodies responsible for representing and serving the interests of the agricultural community as a whole. Members of the chambers are elected for a six-year term. Elections were held on 31 January 2001 in the 10 divisions or colleges representing groups such as: farmers; landowners and part-owners; former farmers; production employees; and employees of professional groupings. The elections highlighted the demographic trends in the various categories and also served as a barometer of the representativeness of the organisations representing farmers (both employers and those without employees) and workers throughout the agricultural sector.

Some 3 million voters, spread over the 10 different divisions, were eligible to take part in the elections. In the light of the structural changes which the agriculture sector has undergone over the past few years, the "former farmers and similar" division (mainly retirees) is now the largest. The size of this division grew by 30.2% between 1995 and 2001, posting a total of 1,464,285 registered voters. By comparison, membership of the "farmers" division dropped to 692,170, down 25.24% on 1995 figures. The "landowners and part-owners division" fell back to 164,084, a drop of 25.96% on 1995.

Agricultural workers fall into two separate divisions: "production employees" (farm workers) and "employees of professional groupings" (ie employees of agri-food industry cooperative workers, of the Crédit agricole agricultural bank, and of the sector's jointly-managed social protection agencies). The number of registered voters in the production employees division grew substantially (up 97.55% on 1995) to 315,948 voters, mainly due to more efficient registration procedures. The "employees of professional groupings" division also posted an increase in voter numbers, reaching 329,822, up 26.67% on 1995.

Media attention focused on the power struggle within the farmers division (which includes both employers and those without employees), between the National Federation of Farmers' Unions (Fédération nationale des syndicats d'exploitants agricoles, FNSEA), which has dominated the profession since the 1950s, and the Small Farmers' Confederation (Confédération paysanne), whose spokesperson, José Bové, has been a very high-profile figure in some conflicts and the media over the past two years. The media spotlight on Mr Bové has raised public awareness of Confédération paysanne, and has enabled it to obtain greater nationwide membership and as a result, make election gains in 2001 (up 7% on 1995) - see table 1 below. However, FNSEA managed to stem the erosion of its vote (which fell by 4%), and even made gains in some départementsat the expense of Confédération paysanne. A case in point is the départementof Finistère, where Confédération paysanne is likely to be ousted from one of the four chamber of agriculture presidencies it currently holds. Confédération paysanne also made gains over organisations which receive less media attention and are more regionally-based. The National Confederation of Family Farmers' Unions (Confédération nationale des syndicats d'exploitants familiaux, MODEF), a farmers' union related to left-leaning political parties and to the ideology formerly known as "rural communism," lost almost two percentage points, and retains strength only in some areas, mainly in the départements surrounding the Massif Central region.

Table 1. Chamber of agriculture election results - farmers division, 1995 and 2001 (% of vote)
Organisation 1995 2001
Confédération paysanne 20.07 27.05
Coordination rurale (Rural Coalition) 12.17 12.48
FNSEA/National Centre for Young Farmers (Centre National des Jeunes Agriculteurs, CNJA) 56.44 52.43
FNSEA/CNJA-affiliated 3.35 1.53
MODEF 4.64 2.93
Confédération paysanne/MODEF federation 0.81 1.44
Various 2.52 2.15

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

The same trends emerged from the largest division, that for former farmers - see table 2 below.

Table 2. Chamber of agriculture election results - former farmers division, 1995 and 2001 (% of vote)
Organisation 1995 2001
Confédération paysanne 14.95 21.70
Rural Coalition 8.50 6.06
FNSEA/CNJA 63.07 58.05
MODEF 9.9 8.42
Confédération paysanne/MODEF federation 0.76 0.33
Various 2.82 5.44

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

There were sizable gains and losses in the production workers division - see table 3 below. However, changes in the make-up of this electoral division are not conducive to a comparison of 1995 and 2001 figures. While CFDT and CGT-FO, like the other trade unions, increased the number of votes cast for them, they lost relative influence to CGT, CFTC and CFE-CGC. The Federation of Employees' Unions and Professional Organisations in Agriculture and the Agro-food Industry (Fédération Générale des syndicats de Salariés et des Organisations professionnelles de l'Agriculture et de l'industrie agroalimentaire, FGSOA), affiliated to the National Federation of Independent Unions (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes, UNSA), maintained its score.

Table 3. Chamber of agriculture election results - production workers division, 1995 and 2001 (% of vote)
Organisation 1995 2001
CFDT 31.25 25.73
CFTC 1.85 4.43
CGC 10.36 12.09
CGT 27.64 38.91
CGT-FO 14.48 9.61
FGSOA-UNSA 4.13 4.19
Other unions - 0.82
Cross-union slates 4.82 1.04
Various 5.46 3.12

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

In the "employees of professional groupings" division, FGSOA and CFDT slipped back in percentage support terms, losing support mainly to CFE-CGC, but also to CFTC and CGT, and to a lesser extent to CGT-FO - see table 4 below.

Table 4. Chamber of agriculture election results - employees of professional groupings division, 1995 and 2001 (% of vote)
Organisation 1995 2001
CFDT 39.59 36.34
CFTC 2.20 5.38
CGC 6.52 15.44
CGT 15.07 18.29
CGT-FO 8.18 9.70
FGSOA-UNSA 13.23 8.91
Other Unions - 2.57
Cross-union slates 11.33 2.45
Various 3.89 0.91

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

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