French Railways has reacted with fury to the destruction of a TGV signal box by militant winegrowers – but local growers' associations are less keen to condemn the act.

Two days ago the Comité d’Action Viticole – the Winegrowers Action Committee – claimed responsibility for the blowing-up of the signal box on the Béziers-Narbonne high-speed line in the south of France.

The CAV acts as a voice for disgruntled winegrowers in the Midi who routinely protest violently against the state’s failure to deal with problems of over-production and foreign competition.

The SNCF condemned the action, claiming it could have caused a major accident. ‘On this stretch of line, trains will be doing 160 km/h. This act of sabotage could have had dramatic consequences,’ it said in a joint statement with the electricity authorities. It said it would take out criminal proceedings against the protesters.

In comparison, the reaction from local associations has been muted. Jean Huillet, president of the Federation of Wine Cooperatives for the Hérault department, said he disapproved of the crime, but it should be seen ‘in context.’

‘Since September, Jean Glavany (the Minister for Agriculture) has been the David Copperfield of government, a minister of lies and illusion. If you play with matches, you must expect to start a fire.’

And Jacques Gravegeal, president of the Vins du Pays d’Oc Syndicate, while saying that he did not back the action, considered it to be a warning to trade authorities and politicians.

‘A solution to the crisis must be found, and very quickly,’ he told French newspaper Midi-Libre. ‘There are too many vintners on the streets. Lack of action by the public authorities has gone on too long.’

Destroying the signal box is the latest escalation in the dispute. In January thousands of protesters hurled projectiles and set palm trees and litter bins alight in Béziers, and one grower was last week sentenced to six months in prison for attacks on government offices.

  • Minister for Agriculture Jean Glavany has resigned to take over as campaign manager for prime minister Lionel Jospin’s presidential bid. He is replaced by François Patriat.

    Written by Alan Spencer in Bordeaux28 February 2002