French fruit and veg growers have urged Paris to increase its initial offer of EUR15m (US$21.5m) in aid as they face paying back around EUR500m in state subsidies.

French agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire has agreed with the EU’s ruling that payments made by Paris to the country’s fruit and veg farmers between 1992 and 2002 were illegal.

Growers face having to return around EUR500m and, although the European Commission is allowing France more time to recover the money, growers are fearful of the impact the ruling could have on their livelihoods.

A consortium of agricultural unions, including the Fédération Nationale des Producteurs de Fruits and Les Producteurs de Légumes de France, acknowledged that Le Maire “understood the gravity of the crisis” but said more assistance was needed.

“This first budget is far from sufficient to cope with the severity of the crisis,” the unions said.

“We also remind [the minister] that these economic measures do not exempt the Government from finding ways to restore French competitiveness as soon as possible.”