Amid resounding declarations of solidarity with Britain, the European heads of government held out the hope that the ban could be lifted as soon as a new British package of BSE-eradication measures is agreed by the European Commission. It now seems likely that such a package will be ready for discussion by an emergency meeting of European agriculture ministers in Brussels on Monday.
Britain's hope is that European veterinary scientists would then make a speedy recommendation to the commission to end the ban. "As soon as we have agreed the package we will be able to restore confidence. That confidence will be sufficient to lift the ban placed on British beef," Mr Major said.
Britain's European partners also pledged yesterday to give substantial financial assistance to the British beef industry, once that package is approved. Jacques Santer, the commission president, said: "The community must play its role. We have shown our solidarity with the UK to combat this and to restore confidence in the market."
Jacques Chirac, the French President, said European leaders had shown "100 per cent solidarity with Britain".
British officials were in Brussels yesterday hammering out a programme for the phased slaughter of cattle, and a deal on Commission compensation. No figures were given but John Bruton, the Irish Prime Minister, said the programme being proposed by Britain would be "more dramatic" than measures in place so far.
Lamberto Dini, the Italian Prime Minister and president of the European Council, said the possibility of lifting the ban would be a "first priority" for the agriculture ministers on Monday.
Speaking as if the beef crisis was past its worst, Mr Major repeated his criticism of the European export ban, and spoke of the "collective hysteria" which it had helped fuel in Britain and across the continent. "Everybody realised that panic merely breeds more panic," he said, adding that the crisis had left "deep scars". While the Government remained adamant that the scientific evidence proved that British beef was safe, the Prime Minister said, there were "lessons to be learned" about how to prevent hysteria in beef scares of the future, which could happen anywhere in Europe.
Meanwhile, the lack of consumer confidence in British beef continued to manifest itself yesterday in stores in Britain.
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