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Friday, 3 August, 2001, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Blair accuses France over EU reform
The Blair family
The Blairs will skip the usual start of holiday photocall
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has accused France of trying to veto plans for the economic reform of the European Union.

In an interview with a Brazilian magazine, he said that the French would eventually accept the case for opening up Europe to greater competition.


Apologies that it is all conducted in English but I am going to learn

Tony Blair on learning Spanish
The comments come as Mr Blair begins his family summer holiday in Mexico on Friday at the end of a six-day tour of Latin America.

The prime minister and his wife Cherie are being joined by their four children for a week-long break during which he has pledged to learn Spanish.

Frustration

Mr Blair made clear his frustration at the French resistance to greater economic liberalisation and, in particular, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Vicente Fox, President of Mexico
The Blair's will be Fox's guest on Friday
"In the end, France will accept, I believe, the case for change and the economic reform process," he told the magazine Veja in an interview to be published on Saturday.

"We have now reorientated European economic policy around structural reform and I believe that France will - as other countries will - accept that it is sensible to change."

Major theme

Liberalising world trade has been a major theme of Mr Blair's Latin American tour, which has taken in Jamaica, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.

The prime minister, who is travelling with 12 British business leaders, has used the trip to press hard for economic reform back in Europe.

He reinforced that message when talking to reporters in Mexico City on Thursday.

"It would in my view be a disaster for Europe if we ended up with a fortress Europe," he said.

"Europe has got to be competitive not just within Europe but with the rest of the world and that does mean fundamental change in areas like agriculture and liberalising energy and other markets."

University debate

Mr Blair took part in a debate on Thursday night with a panel of senior Mexican politicians and academics at Monterrey University in Mexico City.

He promised he would learn the region's language.

"Apologies that it is all conducted in English but I am going to learn," said Mr Blair, who earlier in his premiership proudly spoke in French to the National Assembly in Paris.

The Blairs will spend the first night of their holiday with Mexican President Vicente Fox and his wife Martha at the presidential guest house near the beach resort of Cancun.

The summer break is expected to last just more than a week and further details are not being disclosed.

The family usually pose for a media photocall at the beginning of their holidays but Downing Street says that will not happen this year.

Trade drive

UK's Latin American trade
Argentina: 400m
Brazil: 1.9bn
Mexico: 1.3bn
The tour has seen Mr Blair become the first serving British prime minister to visit Argentina since the 1982 conflict over the Falkland Islands.

During that historic visit, Mr Blair said he hoped the two countries could put behind them the differences that led to the conflict over the islands.

Sceptical

Mr Blair met for talks with Argentine President Fernando de la Rua, who ruled out another military invasion of the Falkland Islands, known in Argentina as the Malvinas.

The president told a news conference: "We have said that our claims over the Malvinas islands are absolutely along peaceful paths."

Mr Blair's remarks are unlikely to go down well in Paris where socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin is far more sceptical about the globalisation agenda.

In particular he is under enormous pressure from French farmers to preserve the big subsidies paid out under the Common Agricultural Policy - something Mr Blair is determined to sweep away.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Mardell reports from Mexico City
"Tony Blair got the full red carpet treatment"
Free Trade in agriculture:
The BBC's Carolyn Quinn speaks to environmental campaigner George Monbiot and Michael Jacobs from the Fabian Society
See also:

02 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Blair warns EU on economic 'disaster'
01 Aug 01 | UK Politics
On tour with the Blairs
31 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Green protesters challenge Blair
31 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Blair presses EU to change
29 Jul 01 | Business
Blair's Brazilian business trip
30 Jul 01 | World
Argentina crisis plan approved
19 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Blairs pay for holiday flights
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