France is the biggest beneficiary of subsidies under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), taking about 20% of the bloc's €40 billion farm budget in 2009.
Talks between the 27 EU countries are starting this year on renewing the CAP for the period after 2013, and will pitch supporters of strong regulation like France against traditional adversaries like Britain that advocate a market-oriented policy.
"I say clearly, I would be ready to have a crisis in Europe before I accept the dismantling of the Common Agricultural Policy," he said after a regular cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
"I will not let our agricultural sector die."
The French president said unwinding the EU's farm policy would let "speculation" determine agricultural prices and prevent farmers from living "decently" from their activity.
Speaking to farming representatives at the Paris farm show earlier this month, Sarkozy had already called on Europe to defend its production standards against imports, which he said would be a prerequisite for France accepting any cuts in the EU's farm budget.
Farm union reassured
Sarkozy's tough tone on EU farm discussions comes as he seeks to reassure rural voters, a key constituency for his conservative government, after a resounding defeat in regional elections this month (EurActiv 22/03/10).
France's largest farm union welcomed the president's words.
"Our reaction is that at last the president has heard us and is talking about agriculture," Dominique Barrau, general secretary of the FNSEA, told Reuters by telephone.
"When the president says he is ready to have a European crisis, it is no longer a case of being firm: we really have an awareness of the fundamental role of agriculture."
The French president had already met with farm groups last week before Sunday's second round of France's regional elections and promised fresh measures to be announced next month, according to farmer representatives.
The FNSEA said it was now looking for France to show the same determination in meetings with other EU countries, calling for market regulation and a harmonisation of rules within Europe as the basis of future EU policy.
Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire gathered 22 countries at the end of last year in a call for a strong CAP, but France is likely to face stiff opposition from the remaining EU members like Britain and the Netherlands, as well as the EU executive, which is keen to reduce farm spending (EurActiv 11/12/09).
(EurActiv with Reuters.)