Moves to ease ban on beef ban

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Hopes of a slight easing of the world-wide ban on British beef rose yesterday when the European Commission said it would make proposals to modify the restrictions next week.

However, Germany indicated yesterday that it would oppose the Commission's new proposal. But German opposition alone will not be enough to block a vote to ease the ban.

Downing Street disclosed that John Major had told Jacques Santer, the European Commission President, that Britain would seek an emergency summit over the beef crisis, if no progress was made. But after the Commission's moves the Prime Minister's office was playing down that prospect.

Ministers were relieved that they had brokered the first signs of progress through careful negotiation, and privately said that the "Euro-bashing" by Euro-sceptic Tory MPs and sections of the British press had set back Britain's case, and had cost millions of pounds in lost business in the beef industry.

Franz Fischler, the agriculture commissioner, is to recommend that gelatine, tallow and semen be removed from the ban. However, officials in Brussels cautioned against any expectation of an early lifting of the ban itself.

The decision on whether to ease the ban will be made at a special meeting next week of the standing veterinary committee.

Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, said the Council of Ministers was reluctant to lift the ban because it was concerned about political opinion in members' home countries.

A qualified majority will be necessary if the change is to be agreed. The Commission is understood to have decided to make the proposal next week in the belief that there will be enough votes for it to pass. However, France is still said to be considering its position.

Sources in Bonn made clear that much more is expected of Britain if consumer confidence in Germany is to be reassured. Politically it remains impossible for the German authorities to be seen to be supporting any easing of the ban.