France-England match sends EU into spin

14th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

LUXEMBOURG, June 14 (AFP) - For British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, England's last-gasp defeat by France in their epic Euro 2004 clash was just the latest in a line of footballing heartaches.

LUXEMBOURG, June 14 (AFP) - For British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, England's last-gasp defeat by France in their epic Euro 2004 clash was just the latest in a line of footballing heartaches.

Straw congratulated his French counterpart Michel Barnier at a European Union meeting here after two goals by French maestro Zinedine Zidane broke English hearts in the dying minutes of the match on Sunday night.

The 2-1 result saw Straw come in for gentle ribbing from EU colleagues after a weekend that without doubt saw more Europeans glued to their TV screens for the football tournament than for EU election results.

"I volunteered congratulations to Michel Barnier and to France. After all, it was a fair game and France won," the British minister told reporters at the talks in Luxembourg Monday.

"It's devastating for everybody in England. But if you're a Blackburn Rovers supporter, you get used to the kind of circumstance where defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory," he added.

"I told my two children, who are in a state of severe shock, that I train them well for this kind of trauma."

The French foreign minister told reporters: "It was a great game."

Alluding to the EU's battle to agree a historic constitution, which will culminate at a leaders' summit this week, Barnier said: "It's proof that you should never give up hope."

Barnier, according to British Europe Minister Denis MacShane, used the game's outcome to take a lighthearted dig at Britain in the EU context.

"That's exactly how the constitutional talks will pan out," MacShane quoted Barnier as telling him. "With the way the UK negotiates, nothing will be decided until the very last minute."

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the France-England game was a "classic", aides said, while Ireland's Brian Cowen said it proved a salutary lesson for the constitutional drive.

"As England found to their cost last night, you can't take your eye off the ball until the game's in the bag," diplomats quoted Cowen, who was chairing the Luxembourg talks, as telling his colleagues.

"You see," Cowen told Straw, who has adopted a hardline defence of British interests in the EU constitutional debate, "even when you're ahead you don't always win".

England's next match is against Switzerland on Thursday evening - coinciding with the start of the two-day EU summit. Some in the British delegation are already making plans to duck out to watch some of the game.

But MacShane told AFP that the constitutional negotiations were "one Euro 2004 where everyone has to emerge a winner".

"And after the European election results, the notion that what Europeans want is more Brussels needs some serious re-examination," he added.

The European Parliament elections were a humiliating setback for incumbent parties, marked by record-low turnout and a surge by populist parties hostile to the entire project of European integration.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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