BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Russian Polish Albanian Greek Czech Ukrainian Serbian Turkish Romanian
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Europe  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Wednesday, 30 October, 2002, 22:49 GMT
Analysis: Entente - not so cordiale
Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac
Behind closed doors leaders can dispense with the niceties

There is nothing new about Franco-British rows.

After all, throughout the 1960s, France's Charles de Gaulle vetoed Britain's entry into what was then the European Community because he believed its traditional pro-American and free-market stance would work against French interests in Europe.


In the end, far from being at the heart of Europe, Mr Blair found himself isolated, with only the Dutch standing firm

He was not entirely wrong - British and French interests in Europe have more often collided than coincided.

Disputes ranged from defence, beef and refugees to the budget rebate that Margaret Thatcher wrested from her EU partners in 1984, with the battle cry: "I want my money back."

Last year, France paid one third of the rebate, now worth some 4.4bn euros.

French demands

And, at the European Union Brussels summit last week, it was the turn of President Jacques Chirac to say he wanted his money back.

For UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, this must have added insult to injury.

Margaret Thatcher
Thatcher won a victory by securing the rebate

First, Mr Blair was wrong-footed by the agreement that Mr Chirac and the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder struck - less than two hours before the summit - to keep the EU's expensive Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) basically unchanged until 2013.

Until then, Britain thought that it had Germany on its side fighting for a thorough CAP reform, together with Sweden and the Netherlands.

In the end, far from being at the heart of Europe, Mr Blair found himself isolated, with only the Dutch standing firm.

Et tu Gerhard?

And then, to make Mr Chirac's victory complete, Mr Schroeder - who pays one quarter of the EU budget - joined him in asking for a renegotiation of the British rebate.

During the dinner of the 15 EU heads of state last Thursday, Mr Schroeder urged everyone to make financial sacrifices after the EU takes in 10 more countries, mostly from central and eastern Europe.


After his victory at the polls earlier this year, and with a massive parliamentary majority, Mr Chirac clearly wants to cast himself as the elder statesman in European politics

Mr Schroeder apparently said, "in the future we'll have to discuss everything, including the British rebate".

And then, switching to English, he insisted, "it's a real issue".

This sort of frank talk is not unheard of in the EU. After all, European leaders get together at least four times a year and, behind closed doors, can dispense with diplomatic niceties.

Seasoned campaigner

Mr Chirac is a master of the art - after a particularly heated argument over the impact of CAP subsidies on poverty in the third world, he is reported to have told Mr Blair:

"You have been very rude and I have never been spoken to like this before."

Since Mr Chirac has been in politics for 45-years, few observers would believe the latter part of his sentence.

But he made a point of his political seniority by accusing Mr Blair of being "mal eleve" - literally, "badly brought up".

Jacques Chirac
Chirac apparently said Blair had been rude

After his victory at the polls earlier this year, and with a massive parliamentary majority, Mr Chirac clearly wants to cast himself as the elder statesman in European politics.

And, at the Brussels summit, he drew on his experience as a former French agriculture minister to outsmart everyone, including Mr Schroeder - who was wondering the next day what exactly he had signed up to.

So this does not necessarily mean that the Franco-German motor of European integration is working again, as Mr Chirac claims.

The deal struck in Brussels will do little to heal the long-standing personal animosities between himself and Mr Schroeder.

As one observer put it, the Franco-German couple will only work when it is necessary to block something.

Expansion plans

As 10 more countries prepare to join - including Poland, with its huge agricultural sector - France will be looking for new friends in the east to maintain CAP.

The system of alliances within the EU will become even more unpredictable.

But Mr Blair's prediction in Brussels is probably right, too.

There will be tremendous pressure to start cutting farm subsidies, ahead of the Doha world trade round next year, with the EU coming under increasing criticism from the third world that it is distorting international farm prices.

Reform of CAP is inevitable - but part of the price may be the British rebate, which countries like Poland will have to help finance from the first day they join.


Key stories

Europe's new frontiers

Background

CLICKABLE GUIDES

LaunchIN PICTURES

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

29 Oct 02 | Politics
29 Oct 02 | Politics
28 Oct 02 | Europe
29 Oct 02 | Europe
29 Oct 02 | Politics
28 Oct 02 | Politics
28 Oct 02 | Politics
25 Oct 02 | Europe
22 Oct 02 | Europe
23 Oct 02 | Politics
24 Oct 02 | Europe
25 Oct 02 | Politics
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes