The Advocate General's Opinion states that France was in breach of Community law for not accepting beef directly exported under the Date-based Export Scheme from the UK.
However, the AGO does not have a binding effect on the Court, whose Judgment is expected later this year.
The Secretary of State, Margaret Beckett said:
'I am delighted that the Advocate General supports the case taken by the Commission. The Opinion vindicates the UK position. However, I recognise that this is not the end of the process. It is the Judgment of the Court which will determine this case and the Court is not bound by the Advocate General's Opinion. I hope the Court will find in favour of the Commission.'
The European Court of Justice is expected to deliver its Judgment in the next few months.
In March 1996, the Commission imposed a ban on the export of UK cattle, beef and beef products (Commission Decision 96/239/EC). The conclusions of the European Council held in Florence on 22 June 1996 set out the pre-conditions for the gradual removal of the ban.
In March 1998, the ban was lifted in relation to Northern Ireland for beef and beef products produced under the Export Certified Herds Scheme (Commission Decision 98/256/EC).
On 25 November 1998, the European Commission adopted Commission Decision 98/692/EC, which provided for the export from the UK of deboned beef and beef products under the strict conditions of the Date-based Export Scheme (DBES).
The European Commission inspected the UK's Date-based Export Scheme procedures from 12-16 April 1999. The inspection was a requirement of the Florence agreement and Commission Decision 98/692/EC. The Commission's report confirmed that the UK's procedures met the condition of the scheme and the Commission announced on 14 July 1999 that exports under the Date-based Export Scheme (DBES) could begin on 1 August 1999 (see News Release 248/99).
The European Commission began legal proceedings against the French Government for their failure to lift their import ban on UK beef on 16 November 1999. It submitted an application to the European Court of Justice on 4 January. The UK intervened in support of the Commission in written proceedings and at the Oral Hearing in Luxembourg on 19 June.
Before the ECJ gives its Judgement, the Advocate General delivers his Opinion, the purpose of which is to assist the Court in reaching its decision. The Opinion is not binding. After delivering it, the Advocate General plays no further part in the proceedings. The next step is for the judges in the Court to reach their decision.
The Advocate General's Opinion states that France could not refuse to accept beef covered by the Date based Export Scheme exported directly from the UK. However, in the absence of harmonised Community rules concerning traceability and labelling the Advocate General took the view that France had justification in its refusal to lift its ban on UK beef imported via another Member State. Comprehensive EU labelling rules for fresh beef and veal took effect from 1 September 2000.