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Europe

Leaders in a Stew Over Culinary Heritage

French President Jacques Chirac flies into Scotland on Wednesday for the G8 summit after allegedly slamming British cuisine. Battle lines have been drawn for what is turning out to be an embarrassing EU food fight.

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Chirac doesn't think much of fish and chips

European leaders are becoming increasingly embroiled in what may possibly be the most inappropriate and petty row the EU has ever manufactured. As the leaders of the world's most powerful nations arrive for the G8 conference in Gleneagles in Scotland, to discuss amongst other things the eradication of poverty and starvation in Africa, leading European figures are sniping at each other over their countries' cuisine.

The food fight began when reports surfaced from the French-German-Russian summit on Sunday that French President Jacques Chirac had made it clear that he was dreading the G8 summit because of the ghastliness of British cuisine saying that Britain was "after Finland, the country with the worst food". He added that the "the only thing (the British) have done for European agriculture is 'mad cow'".

Chirac was also quoted as linking the trustworthiness of the British to the standard of their food. The French daily Liberation quoted Chirac as saying to German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday that "you can't trust people who cook as badly as that."

French officials Monday dismissed the report of the "mad cow" comments but stopped short of issuing a categorical denial.

Food comments add to growing rift

Jacques Chirac mit Koch

President Jacques Chirac with a star French chef

The French president's timing was as impeccable as ever. As well as facing off with the British about their perceived culinary shortcomings, Chirac is involved in a potentially damaging face-off with British Prime Minister Tony Blair over European farm subsidies and the British EU rebate which could become a sideshow at Gleneagles this week. He was also pitted against his British rival in Singapore where Paris and London are contesting in the final rounds off the IOC's Olympic host city bid.

Chirac's comments have had a knock-on effect throughout the EU with the offended parties of Britain and Finland firing back and other leaders dodging the flying baguettes with well chosen words.

Gerhard Schröder ißt Thüringer Bratwurst

German Chancellor and confirmed currywurst fan Gerhard Schröder declined on Tuesday to wade into the food fight saying only he was looking forward to the Scottish venue's cuisine. When asked about the reported comments by French President Chirac the German leader flashed a broad grin and said he would not confirm the remarks but added he had his own thoughts about the G8 summit menu. "I am no friend of salmon and I hope I get a proper steak," he quipped.

British press give Chirac both barrels

However, the British and Finnish press were more than prepared to add some ammunition to the expanding bunfight. The Daily Telegraph suggested that President Chirac "seems to have gone a little off his rocker" before using the food row as a way into further exchanges on agricultural policy.

Tony Blair nimmt morgendlichen Imbiss ein

Blair has no problem with a quick toast

Taking umbrage against the claim that Britons could not be trusted because of their bad food, the Telegraph said: "Again, Mr. Chirac is lagging behind the times. Even the most chauvinistic French chefs now acknowledge that London overtook Paris long ago as the culinary capital of Europe."

French president's sanity questioned

An editorial in the Daily Express ran with the headline "Give Chirac humble pie" and then began with "Has President Jacques Chirac completely lost his marbles?" It said Chirac acted in a "colossal fit of pique" because he cannot forgive Prime Minister Tony Blair for refusing to yield to French demands on Britain's rebate from the EU and now hopes Paris beats London in the race to host the 2012 Olympic Games. "He is an international statesman and should behave as such," it said.

Königin Elizabeth II. in Frankreich Jacques Chirac

The Express hoped Chirac "remembers his manners" on Wednesday evening when he is guest of Queen Elizabeth II at a dinner she is hosting for the Group of Eight leaders. "As for her majesty, it would be quite understandable if she were tempted to reply to his rudeness with a plate of beans on toast. On his head," the paper jibed.

Britain's biggest selling newspaper The Sun commented that Chirac "plumbs a new depth." "His snide attacks on Britain expose him once and for all as a nasty, petty, racist creep," it said.

Finns defend cuisine,

The Finnish press came to the defense of the Nordic country's cuisine laying much of the blame on foreigners' ignorance of Finland's culinary traditions. "The comments by Jacques Chirac can only be explained by the fact that he has not visited Finland often enough and that he listens too much to Silvio Berlusconi", the daily Ilta-Sanomat said.

Last June, after Finland lost out to Italy as home for the new European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) headquarters, Berlusconi quipped that in order to compete with the Finns he had to "put up with" Finnish cooking.

Hans Valimaki, owner of Helsinki's prestigious restaurant Chez Dominique, recipient of two Michelin stars, hit back at the French. "It is also true that the French are the dirtiest people. They do not buy a lot of soap and for that our president will not insult them." he said, quoted by Ilta-Sanomat, adding that Finland should launch a campaign to promote its cuisine.

Finnish politician challenges Chirac to dinner

And Jacques Chirac may be forced to eat his own words by Finnish European lawmaker Alexander Stubb. The husband of a British woman, Stubb has invited Chirac to dinner where a combination of British and Finnish cuisine will be on the menu.

"Our Finnish-British family has ... paid close attention to your negative image of the cuisines of our native countries," Stubb wrote in an open letter to Chirac, promising "authentic Finnish and British ingredients in order to avoid disappointment".

Fischmarkt in Kaliningrad

Chirac can look forward to fish and chips if he visits Stubb's home in Belgium, but not any old fish and chips -- roe of vendace with Lapland potato chips await him. If rack of baby lamb from Aland with nettle mash does not tempt him, Finnish berries marinated in Arctic brambleberry wine with beestings pudding surely will.

Stubb was thoughtful enough to allow Chirac to show off the glories of the French table if he takes up the offer. "We hope that, as the president of an esteemed wine-producing country, you could provide the wines," he wrote.

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