French President Jacques Chirac cracked jokes to Russian and German leaders about bad British food and mad cow disease, a Paris daily said on Monday, in comments that could further strain Anglo-French relations.
Chirac’s office said the comments in Liberation “did not correspond at all with the tone or the content of the meeting” he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Sunday in Kaliningrad.
Liberation said Chirac was overheard making the jokes on the sidelines of the meeting in the Russian city. Its Moscow correspondent, who covered the meeting, reported journalists overheard an unsuspecting Chirac making the remarks.
“The only thing they (the English) have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow,” Chirac quipped, according to the paper, prompting laughter from Schroeder and Putin.
When asked about Chirac’s reported comments, French government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope told reporters, “I have nothing particular to say.”
Relations between France and Britain were already at a low point, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chirac blaming each other for the failure of June talks on the European Union’s long-term budget talks.
Blair, who took over the EU presidency last week, has particularly irked Paris with his drive to cut EU farm subsidies that mainly benefit France.
'Country with the worst food'
Chirac took the opportunity of a receptive audience to snipe at British food. “You can’t trust people who cook as badly as that,” he joked, the paper said.
“After Finland, it’s the country with the worst food.”
He then told Putin and Schroeder how former NATO Secretary General George Robertson, a Scot, had made him try an unappetizing Scottish dish.
“That’s where our problems with NATO come from,” he said.
The race between Paris and London to host the 2012 Olympic Games is further testing relations. Blair wrote in the Paris-based International Herald Tribune newspaper on Monday that London was the “perfect venue” for the games.
In Singapore, where the choice of venue will be announced on Wednesday, Anglo-French tensions threatened to boil over on Monday after a delegate linked to London’s bid said the Stade de France was not ideal for athletics.
IOC guidelines caution against candidate cities commenting on rivals facilities or bids but the Paris delegation decided against making a formal complaint.