John Selwyn Gummer MP Former farm minister and environment secretary For two short days, I am in the heart of Normandy. Nearer to England than my home in Suffolk is to London, yet so wonderfully different, France retains its determination to remain itself. Down the road is the Casino supermarket. Threatened by foreign takeover, the French system ensured it could compete by internal merger. When, years ago, I was first at the Ministry of Agriculture, I encouraged our great supermarket chains to expand overseas. They were so far in advance of their competitors abroad and provided so comparatively easy an access for foreign produce into the UK market that they were a natural export. Tesco, in particular, has now made a great success of this policy but even its ingenuity was not sufficient to expand beyond its first purchase in France. It recognised that by instinct the French would defend their own and that the mergers legislation would not restrict French consolidation in the face of the threat from outside. In the end Tesco sold up in France and have expanded very profitably elsewhere, particularly in Eastern and Central Europe. In Britain, we have allowed our politicians to pave the way for foreign intervention. Wal-Mart was invited in by the prime minister. Our monopolies legislation makes Sainsbury an easy prey to an American or Continental predator but impossible for a British rival. Perhaps the French have got it right. They are both more patriotic and less xenophobic than we British. They help their companies do well at home but they do not hesitate to participate fully in the European Union. We seem unabashed if our supermarkets, like our newspapers, are bought up by American interests. Yet, we cavil at attempts to make Europe more able to compete in a world dominated by the US. At this rate we shall end up being owned by US and still squabbling with our neighbours because we, unlike them, have failed to make Europe serve our national interests. {{NEWS }}