Sarkozy: EU appointment French victory, British loss

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The appointment of former French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier as the European Union’s new internal market commissioner is a victory for France and a loss for Britain, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Le Monde newspaper.

The appointment – putting Barnier in charge of regulating financial services, which would rein in the City of London, Europe’s biggest financial centre – validated France’s policies during the financial crisis, Sarkozy said.

“It’s the first time in 50 years that France has had this role. The English are the big losers in this business,” Sarkozy, speaking on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Summit in Trinidad and Tobago, was quoted as saying on Le Monde’s website (www.lemonde.fr).

Some financial services leaders in Britain are concerned that Paris, which Sarkozy is keen to see gain prominence as a financial centre, may be pursuing its own interests in pushing for strict regulations on banks and others.

Barnier’s new role allows him to oversee a radical revamp of financial regulations to prevent any new economic crisis.

France is seen as favouring tough regulation and Barnier’s appointment worries politicians and bankers in London who are fighting to water down proposed rules on issues like bankers’ pay and bonuses and curbs on hedge funds. 

Barnier was appointed after José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Union’s executive Commission, was persuaded to back the idea over Britain’s objections, Sarkozy said.

“It’s not that the Brits were hesitant, they were frankly against [Barnier’s appointment],” he said.

“The agreement on the role of Michel Barnier was sealed between Barroso and I three days ago. It’s exceptional for France. And the second victory is that our friends the Romanians have agriculture,” Sarkozy said, adding that these are two posts the British “will not have”.

The appointment of Briton Catherine Ashton as the European Union’s new foreign policy chief was much less significant than that of Barnier, Sarkozy added, because she would be supervised by French diplomat Pierre de Boissieu – “to Mr. Sarkozy’s greatest satisfaction,” Le Monde said.

De Boissieu is secretary-general of the EU Council of Ministers.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

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