LONDON -- British actor
once famously remarked that among the reasons the British dislike the French is because they own France, a country the Brits feel is really much too good for them.
That analysis may explain the origin of longstanding Anglo-French enmity, which currently has the two nations warring over beef. And while this spat is certain to be resolved in the coming weeks, it is making British Prime Minister
job to convince the country of the efficacy of the euro, and the
itself, that much harder.
The issue at steak, er, stake, is France's refusal to import British beef, which it feels is still a health hazard because of
(mad cow disease). On Friday, the scientific committee of the European Union unanimously voted after two days of deliberation that there were no grounds for the French ban and urged the government to lift it immediately. French Prime Minister
said he will consult with his ministers and government scientists, and a decision, most likely to lift the ban, is expected later this week.
However, the trouble with any food fight is that long after the mess has been cleaned up, a few nasty stains always remain.
The beef ban comes at a time when the debate over the U.K.'s role within Europe is becoming increasingly heated and polarized. One Scottish local Conservative politician told this correspondent of European politicians that "those
expletives couldn't run a bath." A good sound bite indeed, yet it is indicative of how the debate over Europe in the U.K. is shaping up, with both sides painting the other as extremists.
According to Conservative leader William Hague, Blair wants to give up the U.K.'s sovereignty "slice by slice," while Blair accuses Hague of wanting to pull the U.K. out of the European Union altogether.
In reality, of course, neither leader wants to do anything of the kind, although more extreme members of their parties probably do. Yet Blair could hardly hide his exasperation with the French government last week and was by most accounts soundly beaten by Hague during Prime Minister's question time in
over the issue.
There was more bad news for the
government today, with a survey for
The Financial Times
showing that British business is still very much undecided over joining the euro. The survey of 1,000 businesses, weighted to take into account the companies' size, found that 52% were in favor of ditching the pound, down from the 63% that said they were in favor of it in a similar poll conducted a year ago.
This is a blow to the Labor government, which was relying on British business to lead the electorate toward the idea of joining the euro. And not to have business on its side would be disastrous, according to Michael Hecht, the head of
, an Internet foreign-exchange information service.
"I think Britain will join the euro, but it will be dragged kicking and screaming into it because it will just become too expensive to remain out of it," Hecht says. "So while the British people may not like the idea of the euro, the country would probably still opt to join because it just won't be economically feasible to stay out."
In any debate, it is a case of one man's meat being another man's poison. While Blair may have convinced the French that British beef is not the health risk they presume it to be, winning over an increasingly hostile British public to all things Europe and a business sector that is, at best, unconvinced about the euro, is a whole different kettle of fish.