The French Prime Minister's reputation as a politician depends on what the French press call "la methode Jospin". The Jospin method is a head- masterly mixture of charm, mild bullying and a willingness to argue any subject to death, or at least to sleep.
Mr Jospin is wary of journalists and rarely wastes his methode on them. This was the first time British correspondents had been invited to the Prime Minister's gilded office since he took office two and a half years ago.
Mr Jospin says that he does not care about the apoplectic reaction of the British press and public to his decision last week to continue the French embargo on British beef exports.
It is clear, however, that he does care, a little. As we sat in a polite circle and drank coffee, he said that it did not worry him at all that a "certain British newspaper" had pictured him as a cow, divided diagramatically into prime cuts of beef. He laughed merrily at this example of "l'humeur Britannique".
Mr Jospin had armed himself with a cutting from the "pas tres Francais" Evening Standard - stable-mate of the frogophobic Daily Mail, no less - which offered aid and comfort to his position. "I see that in London there are school canteens which refuse to take British beef," he said, triumphantly.
It might be possible, on the basis of new scientific evidence, or with new tests for BSE now under development, to resume negotiations "in a few months" and avert a lengthy legal battle in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. He revealed he had once suggested that separate arrangements could be made for "grass-fed", top-quality Scottish beef but this had been rejected by Britain. His comments caused a political storm in Britain.
Mr Jospin explained that an independent committee of French scientists had decided - for a second time - that even carefully controlled British beef imports would be risky.
Once that happened, he said, he would have been "crucified by French public opinion" if he had lifted he ban. "Quite honestly, given the choice, I prefer to be crucified by the British press," Mr Jospin said.Reuse content