Chirac's new clothes
The French role in the EU has often been fraught. As a matter of self perception, France's political classes believe that they should be Europe's leaders. Unfortunately for the French their decades long experiment in the social market and truly massive farm subsidies has created a strikingly uncompetitive, unproductive and increasingly stagnant economy. So the French, in their wisdom, having lost the fight to get their own people to pass a constitution whose (French) author said that it should not be given to the people because "nobody can understand it", are looking for a scapegoat. And who better than those nasty English people?
The EU summit was plunged into a new crisis as simmering Anglo-French tensions over Britain's rebate finally erupted into open warfare.Mrs. Thatcher, no stranger to French perfidity, negotiated the British rebate to reflect the fact that British farming had modernized and that far fewer Englishmen than Frenchmen worked on the land. A situation which exists today largely because the French refuse to even discuss cutting back the agricultural subsidies which distort the entire structure of the EU.
French President Jacques Chirac threw down the gauntlet in a hard-hitting and bitter address to fellow leaders on the summit's second day.
He said the rebate could not continue and he attacked Mr Blair's attempts to point the finger at lavish French farm subsidies from the EU budget as ripe for cuts.
The extraordinary thing is that Chirac, in attacking the English rebate rather than actually reducing the farm subsidies which make it necessary, is currying favour with the French electorate which is convinced that the EU constitution was nothing more than a sneaky attempt by the Anglo Saxons to impose capitalism, globalization and competition on Europe. Such attempts, true or not, are to be reisted by the doughy French famers, labourers and government. Without, of course, proposing any alternative.
While the more progressive members of the EU are, for the moment, remaining polite in the face of Chriac's bluster knowing full well that it is purely for domestic consumption, there comes a point where France is simply in the way. That point is rapidly approaching.