19 November 1999

Cosy dinner for two leaves nasty taste

FARM minister, Nick Brown, says he is looking forward to the day he can sit down with his French counterpart, Jean Glavany, and enjoy a nice plate of British beef, washed down with a glass of French red wine.

Not only would that signify the end of Mr Browns self-imposed boycott of all things French; it would also mean the beef war, which has so soured relations between London and Paris, was at an end.

Disregarding the fact that neither man speaks the others language, how might their dinner conversation go?

(The setting: A little bistro in northern France, near a place called Agincourt.)

Mr Brown: "Nice to see you again, Jean, youre looking well."

Mn Glavany: "Merci. You too, though youve lost a bit of weight. Been on a diet?"

Mr Brown: "As a matter of fact, yes… So, you finally agreed to lift your ban on British beef then."

Mn Glavany: "Oui."

Mr Brown: "What persuaded you? Was it the start of legal proceedings against you? Or was it the realisation that you may have to pay a small fine if you continued your ban?

Mn Glavany: "Non, it was neither of these."

Mr Brown: "What, then? Was it that BSE is disappearing fast from the UK cattle herd? Or perhaps you finally realised that, despite our beef-on-the-bone ban, we are not all totally mad in the UK?"

Mn Glavany: "Non. The reason we felt we could now lift our ban was that, by keeping the issue on the boil for another few more months, we have finally killed off all chances of French consumers ever wanting to eat your beef again."

Mr Brown: "But wasnt the possibility of starting a trade war a bit risky?"

Mn Glavany: "Not really. You may have thought we would be the losers in a trade war. But you over-estimated the determination of the great British public. They have short memories. We always knew they would soon be queuing up again for our delicious apples and smelly cheeses. Now, had your Mr Blair put up an official embargo, that would have made us think. That is the language we understand, you see."

Mr Brown: "But that would have been illegal."

Mn Glavany: "So?"

Mr Brown: "Come to think of it, this whole thing has made a bit of a mockery of the legal process. Its supposed to protect us, but nobody wants to use it because its so slow and expensive. Perhaps a new European food standards agency is the way forward. One body for all, one set of rules for all, eh?"

Mn Glavany: "Mmm… If you say so."

Mr Brown: "Anyway, now that youve agreed to lift the ban, how will you sell it to your consumers?"

Mn Glavany: "As a tremendous victory for France, of course."

Mr Brown: "But nothing has changed!"

Mn Glavany: "They dont need to know that. Its not as if they care what the date-based scheme is anyway. All thats important is we keep our farmers happy and protect our backs. What about you? This will surely enhance your popularity back home."

Mr Brown: "Do you think so? Im not so sure. Consumers may have short memories, but not farmers. My credibility has taken a bit of a battering recently."

Mn Glavany: "Im sorry to hear that."

Mr Brown: "Not to worry. Anyway, hows your beef?"

Mn Glavany: "Quite delicious, thank you. The best Ive tasted in years. And the wine?"

Mr Brown: "Well, its got quite a nasty after-taste, actually." &#42

With the end of the beef war with France

in sight, Europe Editor, Philip Clarke,

considers some of the lessons to be learnt

and takes a look into the future