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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU, Britain Agree on Plan to Defuse 'Beef War'

FLORENCE, Italy -- European Union leaders began arriving Thursday for a mid-year summit they hoped would end their divisive "beef war" with Britain.


Pledging to focus on the issues of real concern to Europe -- unemployment, the single currency and the EU's future -- the leaders have been striving to avoid an angry rupture at the summit over the bloc's worldwide ban on British beef.


Chances of smoothing over the row and ending London's campaign of disrupting EU business increased sharply when EU veterinary officials agreed late on Wednesday to a British plan to eradicate mad cow disease.


The European Commission will also propose to the summit a framework plan for the gradual lifting of the EU's ban on British beef exports, imposed because of fears that bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, could be transmitted to humans.


British Prime Minister John Major, under intense pressure from anti-EU politicians at home, has demanded a framework plan as the price for an end to his disruption campaign that has so far blocked more than 70 EU measures.


At an EU meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday, British Energy Minister Tim Eggar said he would block some decisions but that he expected it would be the last time he did so.


Despite the optimism, Germany and some other member states have continued to express strong reservations about any move to lift the ban that implied a lowering of commitment to public health.


Major himself, in a letter published in various newspapers across Europe on Thursday, said public health was "paramount," and added that he hoped agreement could be reached in Florence.


The summit was not expected to agree any detailed plan for lifting the beef ban, but to find some political statement that could assure Europe's consumers that their concerns were uppermost while also meeting Major's political needs.


Agreement on the beef issue at the summit, which opens Friday at a medieval fortress guarded by 4,000 police, would clear the decks for discussion of an agenda topped by the problem of mounting joblessness in the 15-nation bloc.


Italy, the summit host, has made the fight against Europe's double-digit unemployment the main topic of the event.