Chirac: 'The only thing the British have ever given European farming is mad cow'
London Telegraph | June 5, 2005
By Toby Helm and Henry Samuel
Anglo-French tensions heightened last night after Jacques Chirac delivered a series of insults to Britain as London and Paris fought to secure the 2012 Olympic Games and faced fresh disagreement at the G8 summit.
The president, chatting to the German and Russian leaders in a Russian cafe, said: "The only thing [the British] have ever given European farming is mad cow." Then, like generations of French people before him, he also poked fun at British cuisine.
"You can't trust people who cook as badly as that," he said. "After Finland, it's the country with the worst food."
"But what about hamburgers?" said Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, referring to America.
"Oh no, hamburgers are nothing in comparison," Mr Chirac said.
Mr Putin and Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, laughed. Mr Chirac then recalled how George Robertson, the former Nato secretary general and a former defence secretary in Tony Blair's Cabinet, had once made him try an "unappetising" Scottish dish, apparently meaning haggis.
"That's where our problems with Nato come from," he said.
Mr Schröder and Mr Putin laughed again.
Unfortunately for the leaders, all of whom will be guests of Britain at the G8 summit opening at Gleneagles tomorrow, the remarks were recorded by a journalist without their knowledge and published in the French newspaper Liberation.
No 10 reacted with disbelief, saying it would not respond to such undiplomatic comments. British officials were particularly angered by the mad cow remark, saying that France had exacerbated the BSE crisis by refusing to accept British beef after it had been declared safe.
Mr Chirac, Mr Schröder and Mr Putin were meeting to prepare for the G8 summit and celebrate the 750th anniversary of Kaliningrad, formerly Königsberg, which was annexed by Russia in 1945. Lorraine Millot, the Liberation reporter who overheard them, said Mr Chirac spoke in French and his counterparts in German. At least three interpreters were present.
Miss Millot said she also heard Mr Chirac say it was not his fault that he had been half an hour late for the Queen at a royal banquet to mark the centenary of the entente cordiale in November. He said "the British did not respect protocol".
The Prime Minister, in Singapore to push London's bid for the Olympics against the favourite, Paris, was said to be furious when told of the comments. But officials said that, as the holder of the G8 and EU presidencies, he was determined to retain the moral high ground.
"There are some things that are just not responded to," his official spokesman said.
Mr Blair's relations with Mr Chirac were already at a low ebb after rows over the Common Agricultural Policy and Britain's EU rebate compounded deep disagreement over the Iraq war.
Mr Blair is likely to use the Gleneagles meeting to make a fresh pitch for reform of the CAP. He will argue that, while it helps to prop up French agriculture, it harms developing nations by denying them the chance to compete with subsidised EU farmers.