French President Jacques Chirac yesterday strongly reaffirmed France's opposition to any change in the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy. He made the comments as part of Bastille Day festivities that were marred by an apparent assassination attempt on the president's life. Chirac reprimanded Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands for seeking to reduce their EU contributions -- and therefore the large subsidies French farmers currently receive from the EU.
Paris, 15 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- French President Jacques Chirac took advantage of yesterday's Bastille Day celebrations to criticize attempts by some of the country's European Union partners to reduce their contributions to the Common Agriculture Policy.
The annual 14 July festivities were briefly interrupted by an apparent assassination attempt on Chirac's life. The day marked the 213th anniversary of the taking of the Bastille prison in Paris, the event that began the French Revolution. Chirac was reviewing the troops before they began their march down the Champs-Elysees when one or two shots from a .22-caliber rifle rang out.
Chirac was not wounded, and was apparently unaware of the shooting incident until he was informed of it later. The gunman was subdued by spectators watching the parade and later arrested by police. He was identified as Maxime Brunerie and, according to a Paris police spokesman, was known to be close to "neo-Nazi and hooligan" groups.
The incident did not interfere with the Bastille Day military parade which this year, as a post-11 September gesture of friendship toward the United States, was led by a contingent of some 160 U.S. West Point military academy cadets. The parade also included a new state-of-the-art truck from the New York City Fire Department, which has close relations with its Paris counterpart -- even though the New Yorkers are civilians and the Parisian fire fighters are a part of the French Army. Some 75 New York firemen attended the parade.
At the traditional Elysee Palace reception after the parade, Chirac welcomed his U.S. guests with particular warmth. A French orchestra played several U.S. songs, including "My Way" made famous by Frank Sinatra.
But Chirac's most important words of the day came afterwards, in the interview with three French television stations -- two of them state-owned -- which in recent years has also become a Bastille Day tradition. Chirac used the occasion to reaffirm in quite strong terms France's opposition to any change in the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) before the year 2006.
"I will not sacrifice France's ability to be the leading exporter of [industrialized agricultural products such as flour] and the second-leading exporter of [raw agricultural produce such as wheat. I will not, because] of what all this represents as [work] activities and also licensed products [for France.] I won't sacrifice it for reasons that seem to me unjustified."
Chirac said he did accept what he called "certain orientations" in the European Commission's discussions on reforming the CAP. Last week, EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler proposed the phasing out of the CAP's long-time practice of subsidizing farmers according to their output -- which has favored French farmers the most.
Chirac yesterday also criticized individual EU member states which, he said, were seeking to reduce their contribution to the EU -- and therefore to the CAP, which represents more than half of the EU's budget. Behind what he called "facade" arguments, Chirac said, there is "a reality far more serious -- the will of certain nations, notably our German, British, and Dutch friends -- to diminish their EU contributions."
Chirac recalled that at a 1999 summit the EU had set 2006 as the earliest possible date for reforming the CAP. Reminded of today's potentially stormy Brussels meeting of EU farm ministers, who were due to begin discussion of Fischler's proposals, Chirac said there would be no EU crisis. "We are well-brought-up and civilized people, with a long history of differences among us."
At some time before 2006, Chirac went on, a solution would be found that took account both of the interests of the EU's present 15 members and of the 10 Eastern European candidates due to gain entry in coming years. He said that, "contrary to what many believe, [we] will not, of course, refuse agricultural aid [to new members]."
But Chirac made no commitment to a specific level of farm aid to be offered the new members. That has become a major subject of contention between the Eastern European candidates and the European Commission. But in the future, it will be the views of individual EU members -- France perhaps chief among them -- that determine the solution.