A French rural party, set up with the support of President Emmanuel Macron to target the right-wing National Rally party (RN), is facing trouble after a top figure left amid farmers’ fury against Paris.
The Rural Alliance, formed late in 2023, has seen Thierry Coste, a prominent lobbyist, turn his back on the group, just months before the European elections. Coste is angry about “the silence” on the agricultural crisis and the strategy of the party.
“I noticed that I was having trouble being heard and understood,” Coste told Agence France-Presse on January 23.
Talking about the Rural Alliance’s launch in November, he agreed the event was “successful” although “everything was very amateurish”. Coste lamented the departure of prospective celebrity members such as chef Pierre Gagnaire and cycling champion Bernard Hinault, whom he claimed were “not properly briefed” beforehand.
After remaining “discreet” for several weeks, Coste said he had decided to speak up over the country-wide French farmers’ protests.
He said agricultural workers’ outrage “ticks all the boxes” for the Rural Alliance, adding that he “cannot understand” the party’s lack of response on the issue.
On January 23, a press release from the Rural Alliance broke its silence, stating it “supports the movement” of farmers and criticises “grotesque French and European policies influenced by radical ecology”.
Regarding Coste, Rural Alliance downplayed the situation, saying he “has never been on the list, nor campaign director,” and was only present at the party launch “as a political advisor to the hunters’ federation”.
Coste is a veteran pro-hunting lobbyist and has claimed a close allegiance with Macron, stating: “The President knows everything, he trusts me.”
Macron’s support could lie in the fact that any seats the Rural Alliance picked up would then not go to Rassemblement National, which poised to be the biggest French party in the European Parliament, though this is contested.
Coste claims to have advised Macron informally on rural matters and was involved in the Government’s 2019 pro-hunting reforms.
In November last year, Willy Schraen, the president of the National Federation of Hunters, flanked by Coste, announced they were working to form a list for the European elections 2024, with the “discreet” support of the Elysée Palace. Schraen has previously said he voted for Macron.
Still, the Rural Alliance’s impact is set to be minor – current polls indicate it would only collect 1 per cent of the European Parliament vote.
— Ifop Opinion (@IfopOpinion) December 15, 2023
Support in rural France is shifting further to the Right. Jean-Baptiste Moreau, a former La République en Marche MP, recently wrote to Macron saying the agriculture sector “feels like it is no longer being listened to and that its way of life is no longer suitable”.
“With the multiplication of measures or proposals systematically in confrontation with his way of life, a kind of cleavage, of bitterness has set in.”
The former MP said he did think RN would be much affected by the rural party because RN is well established in rural areas.
He does believe, though, it could hurt the centre-right Les Républicains.
Schraen declared during an interview in Le Monde in November that he intended to “defend the values of the rural world, of rurality, not only of hunting and traditions”.
He said he wanted to compose a list, with “real people” from “fishing, horseback riding, agriculture, breeding, or even catering”.
“People who today are practically pariahs vis-à-vis Europe.”
The stated main goal is to “protect rurality” from European policies which, according to Rural Alliance, lead to decisions that are “disconnected” from the realities on the ground.