Friday, July 30, 2004

Monti dumps on France

One of the politicians expecting to continue his term in the EU commission was competition commissioner Mario Monti. He had been promised by Berlusconi that he could stay on for a third term after turning down an offer as finance minister in the Italian government.

But politically weak Berlusconi was forced by his coalition partner, the Christian Democrat UDC, to replace Monti with its own favourite, European affairs minister Rocco Buttiglione.

The jilted Monti only found out he had been replaced from the media and he has come back spitting with fury, giving an unusually candid spitting assessment of his own government and some of its EU partners in an interview in the Corriere della Sera.

In particular, he took a swipe at France and Germany, accusing them of representing "a brake on integration." But he was especially scathing of France, which he slammed for favouring the short-term interests of some big national companies to the detriment of EU economic development in general.

"France has become a problem for itself and for Europe", he said. "It cannot handle its successes, and often it doesn't see them, and attributes its setbacks, which are often imaginary, to Europe."

Subsequently, almost as if to prove Monti’s point, France has blocked an accord amongst EU member states over the draft WTO agreement which must be finalised tonight.

At a scheduled meeting to give Lamy authority to agree to the deal on the table, Jan Brinkhorst, minister of economy for the Netherlands, which holds the rotating EU presidency, "asked if anyone had a problem with the substance". The only minister to raise a hand was from France.

According to ministers present, the French representatives then raised multiple procedural matters, rather than dealing with substantive points. They then insisted that an agreement could only be made by a unanimous vote, running the meeting out of time without the EU position being finalised.

We wait now to see whether France’s manoeuvres finally sabotage the talks. If they do, Monti may permit himself a knowing smile.

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