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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 10:32 GMT
French ban on British beef illegal
Cows
France says British beef could still pose a health hazard
A French ban on British beef imports is illegal, the European Court of Justice has ruled.

The decision means France must now lift the ban or face the prospect of further legal action which could lead to huge daily fines.

French Farm Minister Jean Glavany said he needed time to study the ruling with Prime Minister Lionel Jospin before making a decision.

National Farmers Union leader Ben Gill welcomed the verdict from the European Union's highest court and called on the commission to impose "highly punitive fines" if France did not comply.

France imposed the ban because of fears about the spread of BSE and refused to lift it when the European Commission gave British beef a clean bill of health more than two years ago.

Risks 'still exist'

The judges agreed with commission lawyers that no national law could justify a refusal to apply community law.

Otherwise "the primacy and uniformity of community law is jeopardised," they said.


What will satisfy me is France accepting that if it's going to be a member of the club of Europe, it has to abide by the rules of the club of Europe

Ben Gill

France maintained its unilateral embargo, arguing its own scientific advice suggested there were still risks of BSE in British beef exports.

It has never denied that it is in breach of the law, but says no member state can be expected to ignore the findings of its own national experts.

EU health commissioner David Byrne said: "The decision vindicates the Commission's policies and stance.

"I expect France to implement the judgment and lift the ban on the import of British beef."

'Unjustified action'

The ruling, which comes on the eve of an EU summit at which UK Prime Minister Tony Blair will be meeting French President Jacques Chirac, was welcomed by Mr Gill.

He said France "must do everything in its power to help re-build the trading links that have been destroyed or obstructed by its illegal action.

"The losses caused by this unjustified action have been heavy for Britain's farming and food industries. The reparation must start today."

The National Farmers' Union hopes Thursday's decision will strengthen a separate legal action it is taking against France.

Mr Gill said: "What will satisfy me is France accepting that if it's going to be a member of the club of Europe, it has to abide by the rules of the club of Europe."

Trade row

Beef AP
The EU lifted a ban on British beef in 1999
France's decision to maintain the embargo sparked a trade row, with British farmers threatening tit-for-tat bans on French goods.

Three months ago the court in Luxembourg gave a preliminary ruling that France's ban on British beef is illegal.

The commission brought an action against France before the Court of Justice in January last year. The court has been considering the written evidence ever since.

The ban has remained in place despite Mr Blair protesting to the French prime minister.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jon Sopel
"A move welcomed by British exporters"
The BBC's Sue Nelson
"Margaret Beckett said it vindicated the British position"

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See also:

20 Sep 01 | Europe
French beef ban 'illegal'
19 Jun 01 | Europe
French beef ban goes to court
13 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
British beef 'safer than French'
04 Dec 00 | Europe
EU agrees anti-BSE action
09 Dec 99 | Media reports
French minister defends beef ban
08 Dec 99 | Europe
France keeps British beef ban
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