Au Bistro (23k)

Tunnels, Mad Cows and More Tunnels

Paris:- Saturday, 25. May 1996:- This column is evolving in a way that has nothing to do with the glacial speed with which I write it. As the week goes by, I read the papers and I talk to people and I see things; and today I try to wrap it up into one package. What I never considered when it started, was that there would be 'continuing' stories like the 'Mad Cow' business.

With all the murder and mayhem that fills daily papers, you must wonder why I continue with this impossibly silly story.

The reason is simple: it is all part or the grand adventure of European Union. Instead of having rebels and revolutions, we have 'bureaucrats' in Brussels - who are trying to formulate the rules of a future mega-state out of a hodge-podge of a patchwork of countries. For purely local reasons, any one of these countries can poke a stick through the spokes. Britain's official handling of the 'Mad Cow' business is one of these sticks.

Also, consumer affairs in many European countries do not have as high a priority as in others - and Brussels is trying to flatten the differences. There are certainly 'greenies' in Britain, but the Tories of John Major are blue; some right down to their socks.

They do not seem to understand that already over-polluted continentals hardly feel much need to consume doubtful British beef; but traditionally Tory British beef producers need continental appetites - more than they need the Tories' current efforts in Brussels bashing. As a national election is coming up in the UK, there is no need for a referendum on this question.

Cheap Channel Thrills, London to Paris

Eurostar (17k) It looks like a fare-war is going to break out on the heavily-travelled Paris-London route this summer. Richard Branson, head of Virgin, has taken control of London and Continental Railways, operator of the Eurostar train that uses the money-losing Eurotunnel. He will soon announce a new fare schedule and other assorted rassmatazz that promises to have the ferry operators biting their fingernails.
At the end of June, a student will pay 49 pounds - under 400 francs - for a round-trip, downtown London to downtown Paris. The price for an adult couple will be slightly more than double at 99 pounds - about 800 francs. Fares to other destinations will also be lowered, and a family ticket for four to Disneyland Paris will be proposed for 1600 francs - 30 to 60 pounds less than now.

For business travellers, new trains will be added to the schedule - to make it possible to arrive in Paris just before 10:00 - in time for meetings. A deal is in the works for combo Eurostar-Midland Airways fares, allowing one leg of the journey to be by air.

The ferry operator, Stena Line, has promised to match the lowest fares - but alltogether, there is a great deal of over-capacity available. A Stena spokesman pointed out that Eurotunnel is currently losing US$3 million a day. Eurotunnel countered by suggesting it will run 800 metre-long trains, each capable of carrying 150 cars, as often as every 15 minutes.

All of this is good news for travellers, while it lasts. It is even better news for small investors in Eurotunnel, many of whom have already lost their shirts - on paper.

Held Over - Silly Europe Week

The reason that you are not supposed to flog dead horses is because it is tasteless to do so. The same cannot be said for 'Silly Europe Week,' which has now entered its third month.

In return for the refusal to lighten the European Community embargo on the import of British beef, the British government has decided vote against the passage of all European Council decisions which require unanimous approval in Brussels. The first casualty is the community-wide bankruptcy convention, which was to be approved Thursday. Britain has also threatened to sidetrack all discussions unrelated to beef.

Before the ban can be lifted, the European Agricultural Commission wants 'careful scientific evaluation' of the situation, plus 'firm guarantees' from Britain - to be verified, by Community experts, hat all necessary measures have been undertaken in order to eliminate risk to consumers.

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