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25th Sep 2021

Sarkozy claims big win in EU jobs

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has let it be known he believes Paris outmanoeuvred London in the negotiations on EU jobs in recent weeks, with the appointment of a Frenchman to take charge of the internal market in the face of strong British opposition seen as the biggest political coup.

In unusually blunt comments, likely to fuel the simmering feud between France and Britain over the merits of Anglo-Saxon capitalism, Le Monde over the weekend reported Mr Sarkozy as saying: "It's the first time in 50 years that France has had this role. The English are the big losers in this business."

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  • French president Nicolas Sarkozy is pleased with the distribution of EU jobs (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

The president made the comments after it emerged that Michel Barnier, a former French foreign minister, will take on the internal market portfolio, including financial services, when the European Commission starts its next mandate early next year.

With the City of London contributing disproportionately to the British economy, Britain had been against a French person holding the job, fearing that this would mean it would be subject to strong new laws regulating hedge funds and bankers' pay.

These fears were stoked by Mr Sarkozy who has in the past called for stronger financial supervision as a way of making sure the current global financial crisis cannot not re-occur.

"It's not that the Brits were hesitant, they were frankly against [Barnier's appointment]," said the president, confirming London's opposition.

In the run up to last week's distribution of portfolios, speculation was rife that financial services would be become a separate dossier with some reports indicating that commission chief Mr Barroso had originally intended to take this route.

But rubbing salt in the wound, Mr Sarkozy indicated he had made see his point of view Mr Barroso several days before the announcement was made. "The agreement on the role of Michel Barnier was sealed between Barroso and I three days ago. It's exceptional for France.

He also noted that France had a "second victory" in getting a Romanian to be the farm commissioner. Paris had lobbied hard behind the scenes to see that Dacian Ciolos, a former agriculture minister and Francophile, got the dossier.

The EU's farm policy, accounting for around 40 percent of the budget is up for reform over the coming years. While Britain would like a thorough overhaul of the policy, France, as a main beneficiary, is happier with the status quo.

France is also undermining London ostensible political victory in getting a Briton, Lady Catherine Ashton, appointed as the EU's foreign policy chief.

Le Monde notes that while she is supposed to run the new diplomatic service as part of her duties, she will be closely watched by a powerful French civil servant Pierre de Boissieu, who becomes secretary general of the council, running member states' affairs, on 1 December - the same day as Ms Ashton begins her duties. This is to Mr Sarkozy's "greatest satisfaction."

In addition, the appointment of Belgian prime minister Herman Van Rompuy to be the first President of the European Council was due to a Franco-German agreement ahead of the summit where the decision was taken.

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