Food Law News - EU - 1999

16 November 1999: BEEF - Commission opens infringement proceedings against France for refusal to lift embargo on British beef

Commission Press Release (IP/99/850), 16th November 1999

Commission opens infringement proceedings against France for refusal to lift embargo on British beef : Byrne confident that agreement can still be reached

The European Commission has decided today to initiate formal legal proceedings against France for not lifting the embargo on British beef. The Commission considers that France has not fulfilled its obligations under Commission Decisions 98/256/EC and 99/514/EC relating to lifting the embargo. As the first step in the formal "infringement proceedings", David Byrne, Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner, is asking the French Government to submit its position within two weeks of the formal notification. If the Commission does not get a satisfactory response in that timescale it may decide to send France a 'reasoned opinion' requesting the alleged violation to be brought to an end. The Commission, nevertheless, remains confident that a negotiated settlement can still be reached.

The move comes after France informed the European Commission on October 1 that it would not comply with the Community Decision to lift the embargo on British beef on the basis of advice it had received from its National Food Agency (AFSAA).

The scientific evidence brought forward by France was re-evaluated by the Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) of the European Union, on whose scientific risk assessment the provisions foreseen in the UK Date Based Export Scheme were based. The SSC concluded unanimously on October 29 that there was no need to change their previous opinions on the safety of British beef.

A meeting on November 2 between Commissioner Byrne, French Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Jean Glavany and British Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister Nick Brown concluded upon the need for further technical clarifications on points like traceability, tests, controls, processed meats and labelling. Several meetings between experts on a technical level helped to clarify outstanding questions.

At a second meeting between Messrs Byrne, Brown and Glavany in Brussels yesterday (November 15), it was felt that a solution was close and could be reached in a matter of days.

Commenting on today's Commission decision to open legal proceedings against France, David Byrne said, "While I am opening formal proceedings against France, I remain hopeful that an agreement can still be reached over the coming days, between Britain and France, that will be mutually satisfactory and respect Community law. I will continue to work with both Member States in a constructive manner to reach such a solution. This would represent what I have been trying to achieve all along, a negotiated settlement to this dispute. I hope we can still reach agreement and avoid a lengthy and damaging legal battle.

In the light of today's decision concerning France, the Commission also remains concerned at the lack of action by Germany to lift its embargo on the importation of British beef. The Commission is, therefore, asking the German authorities for an indication of when the embargo is going to be lifted.

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