Richard North, 06/10/2005  

As flagged up earlier, tomorrow, Blair is to meet L'Escroc Chirac for one of those famous "pre-meetings", this one prior to Blair's informal European Council on 27-28 October.

Demonstrating their instinctive grasp of the finer points of diplomacy, therefore, the French – through foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy (pictured left) – have launched a broadside against the British and their "chèque Britannique".

According to Reuters, Douste-Blay has told Le Monde newspaper, Britain should contribute more to the EU budget. It is unfair, he says, on other states, particularly poorer eastern European countries that have recently become members.

"We see the efforts made by the eastern European countries and then we tell them no, when they come to the negotiating table, because the English don't want to pay. It shouldn't be that way," Douste-Blazy says.

This has evoked a dusty response, with a British official in Brussels declaring that, even with the rebate (£3.6 billion last year), Britain paid more than France to the EU. "Without it, we would pay many times more. Of course, without the rebate France would be better off, so we do understand their motivation," the official said.

In a pointed aside, he also noted that all the 10 new member states together receive less than half the amount France gets from the EU budget.

Douste-Blazy had said that France was paying an extra €12 billion into the EU budget until 2013, adding, with that arrogance that makes us so love the French, "We are asking that everybody puts in as much, including the English." This brought a British retort that, "If Mr Douste-Blzay is signalling that France will be as flexible in these negotiations as he calls on the UK to be, then that is good news indeed."

However, Britain is not the only target of French ire which, I suppose, is some comfort. Reuters is also reporting that L'Escroc has thrown his toys out of the pram over the commission's "failure" to defend European (i.e., French) interests and jobs. "The vocation of Europe and of European institutions is also, and above all, to defend Europe, to defend the economic, financial and social interests of Europe," Chirac said,

El president Barroso, however, was not in a mood to take Gallic flak and hit back denouncing a brand of populism that sought to blame EU institutions. "There are two kinds of populism we have now in Europe: one is a kind of populism that is against the market, the second is a kind of populism that is against the very idea of Europe and wants to put the blame on the institutions of Europe," he said.

Mind you, L'Escroc's ire might have something to do with the refusal of the commission to intervene in the dispute over the US computer maker Hewlett-Packard planning to cut 1,240 jobs in France, and his complaint that EU competition rules are forcing France to privatise the loss-making SNCM ferry company that links mainland France to Corsica. The decision prompted sharp protests, including the hijacking of a passenger ferry.

There is also the minor matter of the commission fining the French car-maker Peugeot almost €40 million for rigging the market and preventing their products being sold to non-nationals in other EU member states, thus stopping buyers shopping around for the cheapest prices.

All that and nation-wide strikes as well makes an unhappy time for France. But, as they say in that benighted country, with a strong ironic tinge, tant pis.


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