Wednesday, April 20, 2005

One rule for us… and another for the French

Not that the EU commission is anything other than a totally impartial guardian of the treaty… so it is entirely a coincidence that it is shelving, downgrading or reversing any legislation that may upset the French until the referendum is safely over.

So doesn't say The Times, which informs us today that the commission is deliberately sitting on plans to harmonise the duty on wine, that it is holding back the services directive and is also watering down regulations in areas such as local transport, supermarket planning laws and government aid to industry.

Wine is especially sensitive so the proposals to introduce a minimum Europe-wide duty on wine have been shelved until next year. There is no duty on wine in France, and such proposals would be seen as an assault on French culture.

"The issue is very sensitive. We were told to make proposals taking into account sensitivities. We won't say anything about wine," one Commission official said.

Then, last week, after a nod and a wink to l'escroc, Chirac was able to declare that the commission would be imposing controls on Chinese textile imports to protect European clothing manufacturers — even though it had not announced any such decision.

"The problem is that in a referendum campaign any proposal takes on an extra dimension," explained one EU official. Another privately admitted: "We will have more room for manoeuvre after 29 May."

That may or may not be the case but what is surprising is that The Times finds any of this remarkable. EU law has always been regarded by the French as something other countries are required to obey, while the French themselves only observe it – from afar.

And, of course, this sudden burst of inactivity also serves to keep the EU off the agenda for the duration of the British general election campaign... cunning folks these continentals.

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