Chirac says Brussels does not care about job losses in assault on economic policy

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In an outspoken intervention at the World Trade Organisation yesterday, the French President said the Commission "does not give the impression of defending the interests of Europe" and claimed it was "going from one concession to another".

His comments strike at the heart of the debate about the future of Europe's economic and social policy and put him directly at odds with Tony Blair, who will host a summit on the issues later this month. They also represent a direct criticism of the policies of Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission's president, and his trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson.

President Chirac said the commission did not feel "implicated, concerned or believe that it has something to say" about plans by Hewlett-Packard to cut thousands of jobs in France and other European countries. He said it "does not give the impression of defending the interests of Europe".

M. Chirac is also worried about Mr Mandelson's pledge during world trade negotiations to reduce agricultural subsidies if other nations reciprocate.

Officials in Brussels rejected M. Chirac's criticisms. Francoise Le Bail, Mr Barroso's spokeswoman, said: "Even if some people want to make the European Commission a scapegoat, the Commission thinks that, faced with globalisation and the debate on the future of Europe, the EU must present a united front and national leaders must demonstrate a strong European commitment."

The Commission has said it will consider rejigging regional funding to help France to cope with the job losses. It also wants to create a fund to combat the effects of globalisation. But it says that it cannot intervene to stop job losses.

"There is no way back to the old days of protectionism and subsidies," said a commission official. "Politicians do not create jobs, they can only create the right framework."

Some diplomats saw M. Chirac's comments as a reflection of his political weakness. However, another said: "It is classic Chirac: defining Europe and France as the same thing."

The remarks came as France suffered a "Black Tuesday" of one-day strikes against the government's own economic and labor policies. Transport was disrupted, schools were closed and demonstrators clashed with the police.

President Chirac went on to welcome the decision to start EU membership talks with Turkey, but added the country requires a "major cultural revolution" to make the grade. He predicted that the discussions for entry will take "at minimum, 10 to 15 years".

He said: "Will it succeed? I cannot say. I hope so. But I am not at all sure."

The negotiations with Turkeywill intrude into most areas of Turkish life. After the euphoria of the agreement to start the talks, key European figures reminded Ankara of the need to continue with reforms.

Speaking in London, Mr Barroso said: "I think it's in the interests of the European Union and it's in the interests of Turkey that we have a dynamic, modern, democratic Turkey."