The price of bread is soaring across Europe as a result of inflation and rising energy costs, but France appears to have avoided the worst of the problem so far.
Prices across the European Union have risen by 18% overall in one year, figures from European Commission statistics bureau Eurostat show.
Historically, ‘the price of bread’ has often been seen as a key indicator for the general health of the economy and purchasing power.
And while prices have increased across Europe, France appears to have escaped the worst of it so far. Bread prices here are up just 8.2%, with only Norway (8.1%) and Switzerland (3.9%) seeing lower rises out of 30 countries.
European increases up to 66%
Other European countries have not been so lucky.
The highest increase in Europe is in Hungary, where prices have risen 66% in one year. In Poland, Croatia, Lithuania, and Estonia, the rise is over 30%.
In Western Europe, the most significant rises have been seen in Germany (17.5%), Spain (15.2%), Denmark, and Portugal (15%).
The increase has been caused by the rising cost of energy and raw materials (including wheat and butter) due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is because Russia and Ukraine are both significant exporters of wheat and corn, oils (especially sunflower oil), and fertiliser.
Rising inflation in general has also contributed.
Eurostat said: “This is a considerable rise compared to August 2021, when the price of bread was on average 3% higher than in August 2020.”
Will prices increase in France in future?
France has largely escaped the worst of the rises as a result of the cap on energy prices, which has limited the knock-on effect for artisan bakers.
And yet, many are worried that the end of this financial cap could cause significant rises in the future.
The cap on electricity bills (the ‘bouclier tarifaire’ or ‘price shield’), which has been 4% so far, is set to continue into 2023, but the exact amount has yet to be confirmed.
Dominique Anract, a baker and president of the Confédération nationale de la boulangerie-pâtisserie française (CNBPF), told RMC: "Worst-case scenario, with bills multiplied by 10, there could be a 20 to 30% increase, not just for baguettes, but for all products, otherwise companies will not be able to make it through.
“It will not be at the same price, so we are really very worried.”
Energy bill of €51,000
It comes as one artisan baker in Belgium was shocked to receive an electricity bill for €51,000.
Emmanuel Lieman, 43, based in Amay, told Belgian media that TotalEnergies had first asked him to pay €36,250 for the period from April 2020 to October 2021, and a monthly installment of €14,838 for the month of September alone.
He said: "It's unpayable. It's more than twice the amount of last year and seven times more than before the crisis! And on top of that, I still have to pay back my debt from 2020.”
The baker said that he had been unable to reach TotalEnergies on the phone or by email, so in desperation, he posted his bills on Facebook.
In response, TotalEnergies reached out, and said that it “wasn’t very nice of him to publish his bills on Facebook”, Mr Lieman said. He asked for more information about the massive bill, and was told that his file was “complicated” and that they would get back to him.
Mr Lieman has already said that he does not plan to pay the bill, and that he will instead rent a generator if his power gets cut off.
However, he said: "If I end up having to pay, I'll go bankrupt and start again somewhere else the next day. I wouldn't be the only one to do it.
“All the self-employed people around me are living with a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads and are afraid of having to close up shop. Sometimes households are asked to pay €800 a month, which is absolutely unpayable. We have to react.”