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Thursday, 9 December, 1999, 16:39 GMT
French minister defends beef ban

Vedrine Vedrine: "We will do everything possible to limit this crisis"


Excerpts from an interview with the French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine broadcast on French Europe 1 radio.

Q: Good morning and welcome to this programme, Mr Vedrine. What was the most difficult aspect of this decision taken in the Matignon [the prime minister's office] yesterday evening?

Vedrine: It was not difficult since everyone, all the ministers concerned, who were asked for their opinion by the prime minister - and the prime minister himself - reached the same conclusion.

Namely that France was unable to lift the embargo on British beef now, since the guarantees, assurances are insufficient.

The difficult thing was to reach this conclusion - it can't be helped, this is an objective fact, with a country so close to us, with which we are currently embarked on a number of very important policies.

We will do everything possible to limit this crisis. It is a beef crisis, the issue is that of British beef exports, not just to France.

Q: However, you admit this is a crisis.

Vedrine: It is a crisis regarding this particular issue.

There is a contradiction between this fundamental precaution principle, public health, with which one cannot gamble and a certain number of common mechanisms, and the desire on the part of the British to export their beef.

All these aspects are not in harmony, not yet.

Q: Does this mean that France prevails over Europe?

Vedrine: It is the health of consumers, it could be any consumers. We believe that what we are doing is extremely important for the future and for European consumers, not just French consumers.

Q: Tony Blair immediately launched a legal procedure against Paris, do you say: too bad?

Vedrine: We cannot do anything about it. This is a normal procedure in a way but it does not solve the basic issue.

It does not eliminate the health risk and does not meet our precise requirements.

Namely more stringent tests and first and foremost a perfectly clear labelling system which will allow the consumer - and this will benefit all European consumers - to be perfectly aware.

Q: Anti-French feelings are bound to surge in Britain. Do you also think: too bad but we cannot do anything about it?

Vedrine: It would be unfortunate. It would reflect poor knowledge of the issue since we are faced with an objective problem here.

There is no intention whatsoever on the part of France to have a crisis with Britain. On the contrary we reached this decision with regret.

Q: They will need time to understand that, as the British immediately expressed their anger yesterday evening. What if there is retaliation against French products?

Vedrine: It would be totally unjustifiable and unreasonable on their part but we consider this to be a simple assumption.

In any case they have an export problem.

Other countries have not lifted the embargo, Germany for instance, some 40 countries in the world, have not lifted the embargo.

Furthermore, some countries do not enforce an embargo but hardly anyone there ever buys British beef.

Therefore they have a global export problem. They know perfectly well that they need to introduce more guarantees, indeed they made commitments, but they have not materialised yet. We need something concrete.

Q: Are you giving the British a deadline? Are you telling them we'll meet again in so much time?

Vedrine: It must be said that we are constantly working together, on European defence, we'll be together in Helsinki, we work together on the Middle East, Chechnya, on the enlargement of the European Union, on institutional reform, we are side by side, we are in the same boat, in the same project, so we don't need to set dates to meet.

On the beef issue we will progress in so far as we get the concrete guarantees we have asked for.

Q: The president of the republic was kept informed at all times, I imagine. Does he approve of the government's decision?

Vedrine: On this issue I am not sure what the president and the prime minister told each other late last night. But I am convinced that there is total unanimity in France behind the government's decision.

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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