Chirac gives no ground on EU farm subsidies

15th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 14 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac gave no ground Thursday on demands for changes to the European Union's agricultural subsidy regime, telling television interviewers on Bastille Day he did not intend to make "the least concession".

PARIS, July 14 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac gave no ground Thursday on demands for changes to the European Union's agricultural subsidy regime, telling television interviewers on Bastille Day he did not intend to make "the least concession".

In the face of pressure from Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair to cut assistance to Europe's farmers, Chirac said he was "not disposed to making the least concession on the (EU) common agricultural policy".

He insisted his steadfast defence of the scheme, from which France is the biggest beneficiary, was "not only to defend the French farmers" but also to ensure a safe food supply.

"Everyone is worried about food safety. It is better guaranteed in Europe. We set the example. We are pulling the rest of the world towards quality," he said during the interview.

Britain and France have been at loggerheads in recent weeks over negotiations of the European Union's budget for 2007-2013, the first since its enlargement to 25 members last year.

Chirac has been in the vanguard of European leaders demanding that Britain give up its annual budget rebate, a refund on British contributions to the EU budget that was worth EUR 5.3 billion last year.

But Blair, who took over the EU's revolving presidency on July 1, has said there will be no re-negotiation that does not also cover the EU's massive farm subsidies.

Chirac's comments represent a further entrenchment of his position ahead of another round of talks, set to take place during Britain's six-month presidency.

A summit that brought together all the EU leaders last month broke down amid angry exchanges, as Britain refused to bow to pressure from the other 24 member states.

At the end of the unsuccessful talks, Chirac put the blame for the failure squarely on Blair. "I deplore the fact that the United Kingdom refused to contribute a reasonable and equitable share of the expenses of enlargement," he said.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw left the summit bemoaning the lack of vision of European leaders.

"It is essentially a division between whether you want a European Union that is able to cope with the future or whether you want a European Union that is trapped in the past," he said.

And Blair himself denied Britain was to blame in a speech to the European Parliament at the end of June and again urged members to embrace reform.

"I'm the only British leader that has ever said I will put the rebate on the table," Blair said. "I have never said we should end the CAP (Common Agriculture Policy) now or renegotiate it overnight."

In his television interview on Thursday, Chirac gave no indication of how the current stalemate could be broken, saying only: "We really must find a solution".

He did return briefly to British cuisine, however, which he was reported to have disparaged while joking with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian premier Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a summit this month.

Asked whether he had suggested that British cuisine was the worst in the world after Finland's, as reported in French newspaper Liberation, he replied: "No, no, I didn't say that".

Chirac was also reported by Liberation as saying "the only thing that they (the British) have done for European agriculture is 'mad cow'".

In his interview Thursday the president said French cuisine must be given "the homage it is due ... It has perhaps, certainly, played a role in the longevity of the French."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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