28th May 2023

Sarkozy warns against early commission chief decision

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday (20 March) said that choosing a new commission president in June would undo his good work on Lisbon treaty ratification, while defending France from fresh accusations of economic nationalism.

"If in June a legislative decision is taken, it will be based on the treaty of Nice," Mr Sarkozy told journalists after a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels, amid expectations that Ireland will not hold a second referendum on the Lisbon treaty before the EU elections in June.

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The current Nice treaty on which the EU is based foresees a reduction in the number of commissioners in the composition of the next commission. But if the Lisbon treaty is eventually agreed, the number of commissioners remains the same, following a political agreement by EU leaders last year.

"If we do [elect the next president] based on Nice, we will need to say who will not have a commissioner," the French president said. "It will then be a very interesting debate that I am looking forward to. That will help us a lot in Ireland," he added ironically.

"We can say that we take the post away from them [Ireland] for example. That will help a lot, I will personally be very happy after all the efforts I've done to unblock the situation."

EU leaders agreed during their last meeting in December that the next commission president would be chosen at the June EU summit, a few weeks after the European Parliament elections.

Agreeing the commission chief later in the year is set to delay the appointment of the whole of the new commission, which is supposed to come into office at the beginning of November.

Mr Sarkozy gave a clearer backing for current commission president Jose Manuel Barroso to keep the post than he had done earlier this month.

"I have always enjoyed working with Mr Barroso ...I have very positive and warm feelings [towards him]," the French president said. "I would not be embarrassed to support him, on the contrary."

Speaking to press on Friday, Irish premier Brian Cowen said he was also in favour of "a second term for the [current] president of the European commission."

"I would like a decision on that to be taken as soon as possible after the European elections," he added.

On Thursday, a gathering of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), home to both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mr Sarkozy's political parties, agreed to back the Portuguese politician.

The UK's centre-left premier Gordon Brown and Spain's socialist prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero have also in the past expressed support for Mr Barroso. And Mr Barroso has himself on several occasions indicated his interest for a second mandate.

France does not 'steal' jobs

During his press conference, the French leader rejected accusations that French carmaker Renault is planning to cut jobs in Slovenia in order to create new ones in France.

Earlier on Friday, French Industry Minister Luc Chatel told Europe 1 radio that: "Renault will ...repatriate the production of a vehicle up to now made outside France to the Flins plant. That will be extra output for that factory."

The move "highly surprised" EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes. "If this is the case, it is illegal aid," she told the BBC.

But Mr Sarkozy explained Renault would in fact be creating new jobs in France, not closing factories in Slovenia.

"If you consider that any job created in France is a result of nationalism or protectionism, very well," he said in response to a question from a Czech journalist.

"It is not because we are one of Europe's biggest countries that one should consider that a factory [open] on our territory is a theft from the others. Be reasonable ...You, Czech Republic, you also have countries around you that are less rich. When you create a job, do you steal it from Slovakia next door?"

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