Richard North, 10/05/2004  

Sources: AFP, Commission press release, and others

The EU, in an initiative jointly announced by trade commissioner Pascal Lamy and agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler, has been trying to "kick-start" the stalled Doha round of WTO talks. It has made a "conditional offer" to abolish its controversial 2.8bn euro (£1.9bn; $3.3bn)a year agricultural export subsidies – the condition being that everyone else does as well, especially the USA (which is as likely as pigs flying – ed).

But, despite it being welcomed by Oxfam and other aid agencies, France has stepped to condemn the offer, saying that "it risked giving away negotiating ground without securing reciprocal moves from the EU's trading partners".

Irish Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh, on behalf of the presidency, was initially buoyant, but was immediately slapped down by a statement issued in Paris, which said France would "reserve its position" on the proposal, which it faulted for having "signalled new flexibility with regard to previous (EU) positions without any indication from our partners that they are ready to contemplate the reciprocal moves sought by the commission."

Earlier in the day French Farm Minister Herve Gaymard had said the plan "seems to exceed the negotiating mandate (of the commission) and also seems to be tactically very dangerous." Francois Loos, France's junior minister for foreign trade, condemned fellow-Frenchman Lamy, saying, "We want results but we want them to be balanced… this way we are exposing ourselves a little bit more and that is not a solution."

Once more, therefore, France is challenging EU policy, and there is every likelihood that she will prevail, as she has done so often in the past. Not 24 hours have passed since Blair was cuddling up to our Jacques but the moment French interests are threatened, bam! And Blair thinks Britain can be "at the heart of Europe"?

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