Mr Brown said:
"The French refusal to lift the ban is clearly illegal. The Commission should now act to ensure European law is observed. Nevertheless, the UK Government remains willing to discuss these matters with the Commission and the French Government with a view to finding a satisfactory outcome forthwith."
The full text of the letter is as follows.
Letter to Commissioner David Byrne from Agriculture Minister Nick Brown, delivered to the Commission on 15 November 1999
DATE BASED EXPORT SCHEME
Notwithstanding the clear legal position and unanimous conclusion of the Scientific Steering Committee that it does not share the concerns of the French Food Safety Agency (AFSSA) about the safety of meat and meat products exported from the United Kingdom under the Date Based Export Scheme, France has continued to maintain its import ban on British beef.
In a spirit of co-operation the United Kingdom has provided clarification on the five points of technical concern which were raised by the French authorities following the SSC's Opinion of 29 October. In these discussions on (i) testing, we can support the position paper the Commission produced following the 5 November discussions. On (ii) control we have explained that the controls we have in place are extremely rigorous. On (iii) labelling we have shown a flexible attitude. In any event labelling has no implications for public health. On (iv) the basis of the scheme, the herd system suggested by France is unsupported by science. On (v) processed products, no real problems have been demonstrated in the discussions. We have provided further data to demonstrate the sound scientific basis for the Scheme.
I understand that the French authorities are now reflecting on the further explanations and data provided today. I hope that, on this basis, they will now announce that they are lifting the ban immediately. However, if, despite the clarifications put forward at the technical meetings involving UK and French officials and chaired by the Commission on 5 and 12 November, there appears to be no early prospect of France taking the necessary steps to lift its import ban, the United Kingdom considers that the Commission should on 16 November initiate legal action against France under Article 226 of the Treaty. In this case where there is a very clear failure to follow EU rules it would seem appropriate for a request to be lodged with the court for an expedited hearing.
Naturally the United Kingdom would stand ready after the initiation of legal proceedings to co-operate with the Commission and France, and provide any further technical information so that EU rules can be applied throughout the Community.