06 July 1998
Cunningham out of Europe – with a yellow card from the country

JACK CUNNINGHAMS six months of fame ended last week as the European Union Presidency passed to Austria and he handed over the baton of EU Farm Council President to Wilhelm Molterer. Johann Tasker looks back on Dr Cunninghams performance

FARM MINISTER and Newcastle United fan Jack Cunningham probably cant wait for next months start to the football season. His team will get another crack at the Premiership and, now the UKs EU Presidency has finished, Dr Cunningham will have the opportunity to see more matches.

At the end of June, Dr Cunningham ended his six-months as President of the European Council of Agriculture Ministers. His time in office saw him put farming before football, declining free tickets to watch England play in the World Cup as he flitted around the world on official agricultural business.

In April, Dr Cunningham flew as far as China on a trade mission geared to promoting UK cereal exports. Before that, he had been to the Windward Isles in the Carribean to reassure banana growers that all was well with reform of the EUs banana regime. And all of this between regular trips to chair meetings of the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg.

So, how has he done now his term in office is over? He might not be popular with UK farmers, but the word in Brussels is that Dr Jack performed admirably in Europe. He made progress with Common Agricultural Reform, negotiated European-wide standards for animal welfare and brokered a compromise deal on imported bananas.

Progress, of course, was also made on the beef export ban, with Northern Ireland granted the go-ahead to restart overseas sales just weeks ago. The remainder of the UK expected to be given the all-clear before next summer.

The main achievement, says The Financial Times, was turning round what Dr Cunningham refers to as the “poisonously awful” relationship that existed between the UK and other EU member states before Labour were elected to office in May last year.

The football analogies abound. Dr Cunningham told the FT this month that responding like sent-off World Cup England player David Beckham when negotiating the lifting of the beef ban would have been all too easy. But, Dr Cunningham knew that doing so “wouldnt win us the game”.

With the UK Presidency over, the question now on everyones lips is how long Dr Cunningham will remain UK farm minister. But the only person who really knows whether who will keep which job in the forthcoming cabinet reshuffle is Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The knives, however, are out – among townies as well as country folk. Dr Cunningham is suspected of implementing his infamous beef-on-the-bone ban last December without first consulting the Prime Minister. And that annoyed the PM.

Farmers see the ban as another attack on their livelihoods and city dwellers say he has deprived the nation of a culinary delight. As a result, Londons Evening Standard has repeatedly called for him to be reshuffled. The ban, the newspaper maintains, is ridiculous and Cunningham must go.

If that happens, Dr Cunningham could be cheering on Newcastle United in every match next season. He might no longer be in Europe, but Newcastle are – and theyll be competing for the European Cupwinners Cup.