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French baguettes under threat as bakers face rising electricity prices

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Recently described as “250 grams of magic and perfection” by President Emmanuel Macron, the French baguette is under threat from soaring energy prices, with some bakers warning they can no longer afford to turn on their ovens.

Already grappling with steep rises in the prices of butter, flour and sugar over the past year and a half, the prized industry is now alarmed by astronomical electricity bills looming in 2023.

“It was absolutely inconceivable to me that an electricity bill could make me close my shop and stop my life here,” Julien Bernard-Regnard, a distraught baker from the village of Bourgaltroff, told AFP by phone. ‘east of France.

He still agrees to close his doors one last time at the beginning of December after deciding that the continuation of his activity, built up over the last five years, was impossible given the cost of electricity.

“I had to renew my contract at the beginning of September and it was multiplied by three and a half,” he said.

His monthly electricity costs rose from around 400 euros ($420) a month to almost 1,500, while finding an alternative supplier brought no relief.

“I am in many groups online with other bakers and on social media. There are bakeries that close every day. Some have bills that are multiplied by 10 or 12. There is someone another 40 kilometers (25 miles) from me that just closed,” he added.

In a country where the availability of crispy daily bread is a dangerous political issue for any government, the Macron cabinet is keen to show that it is doing everything possible to protect the country’s 35,000 bread and croissant makers.

State aid

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced on Tuesday that bakers in cash flow difficulty could ask to delay the payment of their taxes and social charges, while Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire received the national federation of bakers for interviews in its meetings. offices.

The Mayor acknowledged that the country’s bread makers were “worried” and some were “in complete despair” just a month after the area was honored with UNESCO World Heritage status.

“At a time when the French baguette is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there would be a real paradox in not giving everything to support our bakers who are struggling with the price of electricity and energy in general “, he told reporters.

Existing programs to help the industry, including direct state aid and a mechanism for them to demand a reduction in their electricity bill from suppliers, could help reduce electricity costs for many businesses. by around 40%, Le Maire said.

“At the moment, unfortunately, it is not widely known,” he added during a press conference in which he also blamed energy suppliers for not playing their part.

Although France has capped electricity prices for consumers, limiting increases to 4% in 2022 and 15% in 2023, no such protection exists for businesses.

Meanwhile, stiff competition from supermarkets means bakeries are unable to pass on significant price increases to customers.

Loss for the community

Bernard-Regnard rejected government promises and said he was ‘fed up with the propaganda’, saying the bureaucracy and complicated procedure for applying for help meant he was entitled to ‘no’ help .

” I am furious. The life of a baker is hard. We have no life, no Sunday, no holidays, we don’t see our children grow up, but we do it with passion. we have to stop taking ourselves for idiots,” he said.

His biggest regret is having let down his regular customers from Bourgaltroff who now have to travel 12 to 15 kilometers to get their daily bread.

“What makes me the saddest are the elderly people. Many of them don’t have a driver’s license and live alone. They told me that coming to the store was the highlight of their day because they didn’t see anyone else,” he told AFP.

Large parts of the French countryside have been in decline for half a century, with a shrinking and aging population leading to the gradual closure of local businesses and public services.

In many villages like Bourgaltroff, the local bakery is the last surviving business, also selling cigarettes and lottery tickets and serving as a meeting place.

Bernard-Regnard says his days of waking up at 2 a.m. to start his routines and finishing his work day at 8 p.m. are over – in France at least.

“I could go overseas where you are recognized for your true worth,” he said.

(AFP)

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