Blair blames the French for holding back reform of EU

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Tony Blair broke with diplomatic niceties last night when he said France was one of the main obstacles to economic reform of the European Union.

In an interview with the Brazilian magazine Veja, published today, he said that he believed the French would eventually accept the case for opening up Europe to greater competition as part of the drive to free up world markets.

However his comments make clear his frustration at the French resistance to greater economic liberalisation and, in particular, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

"We have now reorientated European economic policy around structural reform and I believe that France will, as other countries will, accept that it is sensible to change."

Throughout his six-day tour of Latin America, Mr Blair has been increasingly outspoken in about the opponents of reform. However he has so far avoided naming any of those countries which he holds responsible.

His latest remarks are unlikely to go down well in Paris, where Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin is far more sceptical about globalisation. He is under enormous pressure from French farmers to preserve the big subsidies paid out under the Common Agricultural Policy, something Mr Blair is determined to sweep away.

In a speech in Brazil on Monday he set EU leaders a deadline to come up with a viable reform package in time for the "make or break" Barcelona summit in March. Yesterday in Mexico he warned that it would be a "disaster" if the EU tried to shut out competition from the developing nations.