So, what has France done for farming? Given us the evil CAP
As far as I am concerned, Jacques Chirac can say what he likes about British food. He can slag off haggis. I hold no brief for haggis. He can even make jokes about mad cow disease, though souls angrier than mine might say that was pretty odious, given that French politicians assisted in the £5 billion destruction of the British beef industry, when they knew our cattle were perfectly safe to eat.
Jolly old Jacques can crack jokes about the British weather, and I won’t mind in the least. He can laugh at our pear-shaped women, our bad teeth, our warm beer, our malevolent newspapers, our obsession with nannies and hot water bottles and custard and la vice anglaise.
He can go about the bars of the G8, Nato, the UN, the World Wildlife Fund, and say anything he pleases, and that is because he is an increasingly ludicrous figure. From being “le bulldozer”, the brutal énarque who out-fought and outlasted his opposition, he has evolved into a kind of snarling, brilliantined Monsieur Hulot, a world specialist in the diplomatic prat-fall and coq-up.
He was somehow bamboozled by Tony Blair into holding a referendum on the European constitution, and then by a series of goofs and gaffes he managed to persuade the French people – the French who were responsible for the very conception of the EU – to throw it out, plunging the EU into crisis and allowing Tony Blair to walk away beaming from the train wreck. Zut alors!
And was that the end of his diplomatic ineptitude?
It was not. It has been a common assumption around the world for at least two years that France was due to get the Olympic games in 2012. Paris has a fantastic stadium, and it seems only fair, given that the French last hosted the Olympics in 1924 and the British in 1948. Simple justice should surely have given the prize to Chirac, rather than Blair.
So what does he do, this magnificent prangmeister, on the eve of the crucial vote? He is caught making some crass remarks about haggis and mad cow disease, and asserting that British food is second only in filthiness to Finland’s.
I have no idea how Finland voted in the final rubber of the negotiations, but we cannot exclude the possibility that the Finnish delegate had a mild sense of humour failure and decided to vindicate the honour of the national dish (deep-fried reindeer sweetbreads and honey), by anti-voting Paris.
It was buffoonery, and whatever words Jacques Tati, né Chirac, uses to congratulate London and Tony Blair on their success, it would take a heart of stone not to laugh. The whole Chirac experience is becoming comic, except for one thing: he is still President of France, and he still believes – against all the evidence – that France has somehow done all of us a favour by creating the Common Agricultural Policy.
Yes, we British did have mad cow disease (though the true incidence of BSE in France was never revealed), but whatever damage was caused by that outbreak, it was nothing next to the catastrophe of the continuing system of EU subsidies and tariffs. And for most of the past 30 years it is worth remembering that the EU’s senior agricultural official, the director-general of directorate-general VI, has been French, and the system has been designed in all essential respects to further the interests of French farmers.
Nowhere have the baleful effects of that system been more evident than in Africa, in whose name Chirac and the rest of the G8 will today beat their breasts in sympathetic ecstasy.
Africa has become the great landscape of the conscience, the last haven for the altruism we feel reluctant to show to our neighbours in Britain and the rest of the developed world. That is why Africa is to be given debt relief, which will no doubt do some good, not least to the Mercedes-Benz dealerships which can expect fresh orders from the various thugs and crooks whose position in power will thereby be entrenched.
But there is a better and more immediate thing that we could do for Africa, and that is to begin the work that France has so far refused, and undo the evil of the CAP.
Let us take one example, Mozambique, by some estimates the poorest country on earth, where average earnings per year are £300, less than M Chirac might expect to pay to take four people out to dinner at a posh Paris restaurant.
Mozambique is heavily dependent on its production of sugar, and with an ideal climate and low costs one might think that the Mozambiquans could make a go of it. As things are, the Mozambique sugar industry loses about £20 million a year, the equivalent of the country’s entire agriculture budget. Why? Because the price of sugar in Europe is kept at three times the price on the world market, by two criminal expedients.
First, sugar from Mozambique and elsewhere in the Third world faces tariffs of about 324 per cent; and second because the European taxpayer pays for any surplus European sugar to be dumped on the world market.
Under this amazing regime, the EU produces 17 million tonnes of sugar, consumes only 12 million tonnes, and sends the rest overseas – to compete with whatever Mozambique can produce – with a subsidy of 525 euros per tonne. It is utterly cynical; there is no sign of any proper reform, and it was, of course, the French who devised the system, in 1968, with the help of Sicco Mansholt, a Dutch commissioner.
That is the French contribution to European agriculture, and though it is fair to say that there are quite a few British sugar barons who are doing very nicely out of it, the French get the most subsidy, and the French are preventing any real reform.
If Jacques Chirac really wants to begin to repair his international reputation, he can forget about eating some penitential haggis at Gleneagles.
Show us you are a statesman, Jacques, and not just a clown, and scrap the CAP.