Fury as France escapes beef punishment
FRANCE has escaped paying a penny of the £100,000-a-day fine for its illegal ban on British beef, after the case against it collapsed through a legal loophole last night.
The European Commission has agreed that, after France agreed to drop its ban last month, there is no way of penalising it for a move estimated to have cost British agriculture some 300 million a year.
It argued that the European Court of Justice has no powers to impose a retrospective fine. By the time France dropped the ban, the judges had still not looked at the case.
The decision, which had been expected in Brussels, was met with dismay from the National Farmers Union in Scotland which said last night it was “astonished” to see France entirely escape punishment for a ban which badly hit Scots farmers.
“France kept up a complete spurious ban on Scottish beef, as well as English,” said a spokeswoman. “The only reason we could see was they wanted to protect their own industry.
“Not even did they get away with doing that, they’ve escaped the ban.”
Neil Parish, the Conservative Party’s agriculture spokesman in the European parliament, said this was another worrying example of France getting its own way inside the EU.
“The news that the commission has decided to cave in and let France off the hook over its illegal ban on British beef is nothing less than a cheat’s charter,” he said. “The commission has now given a clear signal that it is acceptable to flout EU law for over three years and get away scot-free.
“This is bad news for British beef farmers who have seen their industry decimated thanks to the French government.”
Last year, the European Court of Justice declared France’s refusal to follow the rest of the EU in lifting the ban on British beef in 1999 illegal. The commission then asked the court to impose a 100,000-a-day fine. The commission’s legal request for the fines was still being considered by the judges when France finally complied and opened up its beef markets to Britain last month. As such fines cannot be imposed retrospectively under current EU law, the commission saw no point in pursuing the case.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission explained: “The fines would only be applicable from the day the court agreed, and as France has now changed its policy, no fines could be imposed.”
The NFU has said it will seek to sue French government for damages to its export market, which was once worth 510 million a year.
The scrapping of the case signals the end of a six-and-a-half year saga, triggered when the government announced a possible link between BSE and Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, a similar condition affecting the human brain. The scare prompted a worldwide ban on British beef in 1996.
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