Saturday, September 6, 2008

EU officials lambast Sarkozy’s “ignorance”

Brussels, July 7 - Starting the French Presidency of the European Union at loggerheads with European officials, French President Nicolas Sarkozy got all mixed up when quoting trade figures in international negotiations. Rejecting Sarkozy’s figures on the bloc’s trade negotiations as “utterly incorrect,” Commission spokesman Michael Mann told journalists in Brussels, “This figure of 20 percent (reduction in EU farming output as a result of World Trade Organization talks) that is being talked about in the public domain is utterly incorrect. “It is based on the assumption that we are adopting hook, line and sinker the proposals put on the table by the G20 group of countries, which is not the case and will never be the case,” he said.

During the regular mid-day press briefing, Mann’s views were echoed by Peter Power, spokesman for Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson. Power told journalists: “We have not agreed to these, we will never agree to the full demands of the G20. We are in discussion, we can agree to some.” If developed and developing countries agree to a compromise on trade - an outcome which is by no means assured - the commission believes that it could lead to a fall of some 1.1 percent in EU agricultural production and 2.5 percent in jobs in the farming sector by the end of 2014, Power said. “(Sarkozy) is basing the figures he has put into the public domain on a false assumption,” he said.

Sarkozy, on the eve of taking over the rotating presidency of the EU, in a televised speech lambasted the EU’s trade policies saying the present policies would result in a 20 percent drop in EU farm output and 100,000 job losses. Sarkozy slammed both Mandelson and the WTO’s French head, Pascal Lamy, for trying to impose such an agreement on Europe, and vowed, “I will not let that happen.”

Commission officials retorted that that would only be the case if the EU caved in to all the demands of the G20 group of developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa. Moreover, Sarkozy also got flak back from Mandelson, who told the BBC network, “I am being undermined and Europe’s negotiating position in the world trade talks is being weakened and I regret that,” stressing that the mandate on which he was negotiating in the trade talks “had been agreed by all the (EU) member states (Council decision).”

Later, Mandelson was conspicuous by his absence at the gala dinner hosted by the French to inaugurate the rotating EU presidency. Asked to comment on the missing Commissioner, in the presence of the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Sarkozy told journalists, “It is not forbidden to have differences of opinion in Europe.”

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