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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 15:20 GMT
France 'must back down' in beef row
Cows
France is considering the ruling
The UK's National Farmers' Union has demanded an immediate climb-down by France after the country's ban on British beef imports was ruled illegal.

NFU leader Ben Gill said France's unilateral ban had led to heavy losses for British farmers and demanded "punitive fines" if it failed to remove the embargo.

The British Government too, has expressed the hope that the French will now be persuaded to comply with the European Court of Justice's ruling.

French Farm Minister Jean Glavany said he needed time to study the ruling with Prime Minister Lionel Jospin before making a decision.

Beef AP
The EU lifted a ban on British beef in 1999
France imposed the ban because of fears about the spread of BSE and refused to lift it when the commission gave British beef a clean bill of health more than two years ago.

Mr Gill called on the European Commission to "take a tough line over this flagrant and lengthy breach of EC law". He added: "The very credibility of the European Union has been damaged by the action of one nation.

"The commission must also do whatever is necessary to assist Britain in re-establishing its markets in France and the rest of Europe.

"The French Government must now be under no illusion that it must lift its embargo immediately."

Compensation claims

The ruling comes on the eve of an EU summit at which UK Prime Minister Tony Blair will be meeting French President Jacques Chirac.

The NFU hopes the decision will strengthen a separate legal action it is taking against France.

Junior Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Elliot Morley told the House of Commons that daily fines could now be imposed if France did not comply.

He promised "support and advice" to British firms and farmers who wished to pursue compensation claims.

Pressure on France

France maintained its unilateral embargo, arguing its own scientific advice suggested there were still risks of BSE in British beef exports.

It has never denied that it is in breach of the law, but says no member state can be expected to ignore the findings of its own national experts.

The judges agreed with commission lawyers that no national law could justify a refusal to apply community law.

Otherwise "the primacy and uniformity of community law is jeopardised," they said.

EU health commissioner David Byrne said: "The decision vindicates the commission's policies and stance.

"I expect France to implement the judgment and lift the ban on the import of British beef."

France's decision to maintain the embargo sparked a trade row, with British farmers threatening tit-for-tat bans on French goods.

The commission brought an action against France before the Court of Justice in January last year. The court has been considering the written evidence ever since.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jake Lynch
"Farmers want to know how the court intends to enforce its ruling"
The BBC's Jon Sopel
"The EC is demanding that the French Government comply with the ruling"

CJD

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See also:

19 Jun 01 | Europe
French beef ban goes to court
13 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
British beef 'safer than French'
04 Dec 00 | Europe
EU agrees anti-BSE action
09 Dec 99 | Media reports
French minister defends beef ban
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