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Note to Self: Don't Send Wine to Tony Blair

International diplomacy is a tough business. Apparently you need to go around walking on eggshells all the time -- never knowing quite when the right time would be to bow, to cough in your sleeve, or to give a fellow diplomat a few bottles of wine. Take the case of France's president Jacques Chirac. Over the past year or so, he's sent his buddy across the channel (Prime Minister Tony Blair) some wine on several occasions. Unfortunately, though, it looks like it hasn't gone over too well.

This could be for any number of reasons. Britain could be pulling the equivalent of the U.S. Congress' Freedom Fries act of 2003. Or maybe it's just that Blair (a keen wine lover, purportedly) is a Barolo man rather than a Bordeaux man. Though any wine lover would be sort of silly to turn down a case of 1989 Mouton Rothschild.

There's also a chance that Blair may just not have been able to afford it. Unlike the United States, where our elected representatives regularly have their kids' college tuitions paid for by foreign governments and large corporations, apparently the British Prime Minister has to pay for every gift he gets. Yes, you heard that right, he has to pay for them. Apparently there's a process where each diplomatic gift is appraised for its value and if the PM wants to keep it, a portion of value gets deducted from his salary. Or maybe he gets a bill at the end of the month. In any case, that nice set of 12 Bordeaux would apparently have set Blair back the equivalent of a couple thousand US dollars.

We may never know why Blair won't take the wine, but I recommend that anyone contemplating sending him a case of wine try a few bottles of Blue Nun first, just to see if he bites. Me, I'm going to stick with trying to put his kids through Oxford. If I get lucky maybe he'll have some nice Bordeaux he wants to get rid of.

That is, unless Chirac asks for it back. But I don't suppose the international laws of diplomacy allow that sort of thing.

Curious as to the gifts that the members of Britain's ruling party get for Ministers of one sort or another? Check out a full list from last year (PDF File). After seeing what's in there I'm surprised the wine didn't get snapped up. I mean, how many fountain pens, rugs, watches, and ceremonial daggers does a guy need?

Comments (8)

sam wrote:
07.28.06 at 8:48 AM

fascinating. thank you for sharing.

mph wrote:
07.28.06 at 1:30 PM

Interesting story. So if the PM does not want to purchase the wine and it remains "held by the Prime Minister's office," what happens to it?

Can it be served at an official dinner that the PM attends, as when a foreign head of state visits? To me, that seems like a very equitable outcome.

GregP wrote:
07.28.06 at 7:42 PM

Sounds like he's been spoiled by CA juice :-)) He's making the trip here as well, any connection?

I'll see if we can send him a "care" package when he lands, if he turns that down as well, then I am sure he doesn't drink wine :-))

Ben Bicais wrote:
07.29.06 at 2:40 PM

Very interesting... While I can see the reasons for compelling politicians to pay for gifts they receive to prevent the perception of influence buying, it seems that this result is not favorable either. I had no idea that exchanging gifts between European heads of state required so much tact.

Anonymous wrote:
07.30.06 at 9:47 PM

You said:
"Unlike the United States, where our elected representatives regularly have their kids' college tuitions paid for by foreign governments and large corporations, apparently the British Prime Minister has to pay for every gift he gets."

That's 100% wrong. Under House and Senate rules, lawmakers and their staff members cannot accept anything valued at more than $49.99 at a single time -- or, from the same source, more than an accumulated $99.99 over the course of a calendar year.

(I like the .99 price point, though. Nice touch.)

And here are the rules for the president -- with different rules for foreign and domestic gifts.

FYI some recent gifts (incl $700 of wine to Cheney!)

We have a word for the elected officials receiving tuition for their kids, etc. from donors. It's called a bribe. It's illegal. And that's why crooked politicians like San Diego-area Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham are headed to prison.

Alder wrote:
07.30.06 at 9:55 PM

Thanks for the comments and the resources. Don’t misunderstand me, I know these sorts of things are illegal, but they do happen all the time, from expensive lunches with lobbyists to tickets to the opera, to lots more. Cunningham got caught, but for every one of him there are dozens more that never will be.

08.10.06 at 2:44 PM

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izwec nacw wrote:
08.10.06 at 2:45 PM

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