Leading French politicians wrong-footed and deliberately slowed Britain’s accession to the EU – then called the EEC or Common Market – so that by the time the UK joined the bloc the price-fixing Common Agricultural Policy would be a done deal. And, despite some attempts to modernise the CAP, the move left Britain at a permanent disadvantage. In a celebrated biography of Tory leader Edward Heath writer Philip Ziegler said: “If Britain had become a member in mid-1961 it would have been in time to participate in the formulation of the Common Agricultural Policy instead of being confronted with a system largely devised to meet the needs of French farmers.”
The French were unwittingly aided by members of Heath’s own Government who insisted that as part of the application for joining the EEC that every minor detail of every aspect pertaining to agriculture should be hammered out, debated and agreed.
Mr Ziegler added: “Once it became clear that every commodity – from butter, through bananas, to kangaroo meat – was to be the subject of lengthy bargaining it became obvious that the negotiations would be protracted, tedious and faintly absurd.
“The French rejoiced in this sluggish process.
“It was their object to spin matters out so as to ensure that the Common Agricultural Policy would be operational before matters came to an end.”
The Common Agricultural Policy was eventually set up in 1962 largely to subsidise primarily French farmers. Despite repeated attempts to reform the policy – which pays farmers for fields to lie fallow – the CAP still accounts for 40 percent of the annual EU budget.
France is no longer a net beneficiary but still only pay about half of the UK pays annually.