For those who are fed up with the guff-filled platitudes of European diplomacy, there was something magnificent in the remarks of M. Chirac about British cuisine. Not since Edith Cresson said that most British men were poofters, or since a Scandinavian environment minister called John Selwyn Gummer a drittsekk, or scumbag, has there been so refreshing a breach of protocol. According to the French President, the British are not to be trusted, because their cooking is exceeded in filthiness only by Finland’s. He found haggis disgusting, and thinks that the British have contributed nothing to European agriculture except mad cow disease. This is not the time to quarrel with the substance of what he said, but to salute the spirit in which he said it.
He spoke with the fury of a man who probably knew that Paris was about to be pipped by London in its efforts to host the Olympics. He spoke with the uninhibited rancour of a man who has just been bamboozled by Tony Blair into holding a referendum on the European constitution, only to find the thing thrown out by his own people. In other words, he spoke from the heart, and that is what makes his remarks so appealing. It is time for others to repay the compliment, and speak frankly to Chirac about what he has done to Europe, and what France has done to European agriculture.
The introduction of a little more candour in international relations is much to be welcomed, not least because it will encourage other world leaders to hold Jacques Chirac to account for his real misdemeanour: putting the interests of the subsidy junkies who tend his nation’s farms above the cause of world poverty. Aside from Africa’s dictators, there is no one in the world who is proving such a barrier to African development as the French President.