French Minister accuses Barroso of fuelling the far-right

Arnaud Montebourg, May 2012. [Reuters]

French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg accused European Commission President José Manuel Barroso yesterday (23 June) of fuelling far-right and populist movements in Europe as EU institutions failed to defend the interests of ordinary people.

His comments came just before France's conservatives narrowly saw off a challenge from the far-right National Front to win a by-election in the southern French constituency of Villeneuve-sur-Lot. President François Hollande's Socialists had already been eliminated in the first round.

"The European Union is paralysed. It does not respond to any of people's aspirations in the industrial, economic or budgetary fields and in the end it provides a cause to all the anti-European parties," Montebourg told France Inter radio.

"Mr Barroso is the fuel of the French National Front, that's the truth. He is the fuel of Beppe Grillo," he said, referring to the leader of the populist 5-Star Movement which won a quarter of the vote in Italy's February election.

The Socialist Montebourg, known for his outspoken remarks, was speaking days after Barroso angered many in France by criticising Paris over its insistence that cinema and music be ring-fenced from an EU-US trade pact, describing the French position as "reactionary".

"This Brussels disease is going to be deadly for Europeans," Montebourg said of Barroso's position.

This is not the first time when Montebourg attacks the Commission. Last October he blasted the Commission for preventing EU countries from subsidising their industries, which in his words gave an advantage to Chinese and US businesses.

>> Read: Montebourg: China, US industries 'don’t have Brussels on their backs'

Frederic Vincent, a European Commission spokesman, said: "It is regrettable that once again the responsibility for certain problems on the level of national politics have been transferred to the European level by making the European Commission a scapegoat. The Commission has no intention to enter into internal political debates but it has the right and the duty to bring clarification and to defend its positions.

"On the cultural exception we reaffirm that which President Barroso has said over and over again. The cultural exception is not negotiable, culture is not merchandise and it was, it is and it will always be a red line for this institution. That is a position of principle that we will never call into question. We refute therefore clearly the attacks against the Commission which are an an amalgam concerning declarations by the president on certain protectionist positions and which were not taken up correctly, as if they were a criticism of France or of the cultural exception. The truth is that when they attack globalisation, economic reforms, Europe and its institutions, sovereigntists of the left and the right have the same agenda.

"Certain French officials must abandon certain ambiguities towards Europe and to defend moreover nationalism, populism, even chauvinism. The Commission reaffirms that Europe remains the best way to shape globalisation and so it is important that we work together, institutions and member states, to exert our full weight."

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