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France In The Dock At the EU

Tuesday 01 May 2007

Rarely in the vanguard in the implementation of European legislation, France now faces problems with the EU Commission on a number of fronts.

First up for reprimand is the operation of French chemists, where the French government is being asked to explain why it continues to restrict their operation through unacceptable controls on the number within a locality, and on who can run a pharmacy. Corporate chains of chemists are unknown in France, due to restrictions on multiple ownership and qualifications to entry.

In response, the French government has argued that the geographical restrictions, in particular, are imposed in order to ensure that there is a full network of chemists across the country, and that rural areas are covered.

The Commission is also calling on the French government to end the practice of fixing a minimum price for cigarettes. Whilst the government claims this is being done for public health reasons, the Commission believes that the use of taxation is a more appropriate route.

Other commentators have argued that the minimum price regulations have more to do with protecting cigarette manufacturers and the ‘tabacs’ themselves, many of which are facing growing economic pressures.

The Commission is also contesting recent French legislation to protect about ten, so called, ‘sensitive’ sectors of the economy against hostile takeover from abroad. The sectors include defence, casinos, private security services, and certain types of research and technology sectors.

French bank savings schemes are another source of difficulty for the French government. Whilst recent legislation now permits banks to offer interest on current savings accounts, the Commission does not like the controls being retained by the government.

One of the greatest sources of difficulty for the French concerns EU regulations on the environment. Not surprisingly, given the strength of the French farming lobby, France has been a laggard in the implementation of environmental directives.

The most serious of the current disputes concerning water pollution in river basins in Brittany, where the France has failed to fully implement a directive dating from 1975 to control the level of nitrates in the water.

Whilst Brittany only contains 7% of the agricultural land in France, it has highly intensive levels of livestock farming, the slurry of which enters French rivers.

French fishermen have also failed to implement a EU directive on the size of fishing nets, as a result of which they are dragging more fish out of French waters that is permitted under EU law.

In a recent review of the stance of the French political and bureaucratic elite towards Europe, the French Conseil d’Etat (Council of State) criticised the government for a failure to adopt a European ‘reflex’ in its thinking and actions.

The Council pointed out that France ranked 21st out of 25 member states in the number of infractions incurred against European laws.

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