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Riot police on alert as Languedoc winemakers plan protest

Angry Languedoc winemakers will hold a protest on Monday against EU plans to rip up their vines.

Riot police are on standby for the demonstration, expecting Languedoc’s wine militant group CRAV (Comité Régional d’Action Viticole) at the protest. The march takes place in Béziers just two days before controversial wine market reforms are announced in Brussels.

Previous protests have brought attacks on train lines, supermarkets and large wineries by the group. Tension in southern France remains high after masked militants threatened more action in a recent ultimatum to French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Languedoc Roussillon’s sprawling vineyards are set to be hit hard by an EU plan to grub up 200,000ha (hectares) of vines, in order to drain Europe’s 1.5bn-litre wine surplus.

More than half of the region’s wineries reported a loss last year. Several winemakers familiar with the CRAV told decanter.com they expected more attacks.

Organisers of the Béziers protest called for a peaceful day, but promised a long-term campaign against EU reform

‘This protest is just the beginning, I guarantee you,’ unionist winemaker Didier Gadea told decanter.com at a makeshift press conference.

He criticised European agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel.

‘She, who has never visited us here, cannot decide the future of thousands of French winemakers,’ he said.

Fischer Boel will announce her radical’reform proposals on 4 July as the Commission looks to relaunch European wines on the world market and end a policy of subsidised distillation. Many Languedoc winemakers oppose the reform plans.

‘Grubbing up vines is too negative,’ said René Moreno, president of a wine co-operative near Béziers. ‘If we pull up our vines, they will be planted elsewhere and we will lose our jobs. For me it’s a marketing problem.’

As well as grubbing up vines, Fischer Boel is expected to propose the abolition of planting rights, and €120m per year over a five-year period to promote European wines abroad.

Fierce debate between member states is likely, however, and the French government has already declared it will submit its own counter-reform package.

Written by Chris Mercer

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