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Sarkozy to champion Europe in trade talks

Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, warned the world on Wednesday night that he expected Europe to take a much tougher stance in global trade talks and would not allow his country’s farmers to be sold “at the lowest possible price”.

Sarkozy, on his first presidential visit to Brussels, called on Europe to “protect” its citizens, buying them time to adapt to the pressures of globalization. His comments suggest he will pursue an assertive French agenda in Europe that could put him in conflict with free traders including Angela Merkel, German chancellor, and Gordon Brown, incoming UK prime minister. Sarkozy’s passionate defense of French farmers will concern Europe’s trade partners who hoped he might be more flexible in his approach to cutting EU farm tariffs than Jacques Chirac, his predecessor.

The French president has previously criticized the European Commission for offering too many concessions on agriculture during world trade talks. On Wednesday night he said: “It is goodbye to naivety.” He said he would not allow cuts to support for European farmers while their US counterparts benefited from the same policies, adding: “I’m not going to sell agriculture to get a better opening for services.” Europe’s defense of its agriculture sector has been blamed by other countries for the lack of progress in the Doha world trade round, but Sarkozy said he was not going to be “boxed in” if others failed to make reciprocal offers.

He hinted that he expected Europe to take defensive measures against globalization generally, a view that clashes with the “open Europe” message of his host, Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission president. “Europe has to protect its citizens, not worry them,” Sarkozy said. “Europe has to prepare itself for globalization – it can’t just be overtaken by it. Globalization can’t be a Trojan horse in Europe.” Although Sarkozy’s allies deny this approach amounts to protectionism, Barroso sent out a thinly veiled warning of the risks of going too far down that route. “Fortress Europe would be bad for our economy and all of our people,” he said. In the short run, Sarkozy’s arrival on the European scene has been welcomed in many national capitals.

Barroso praised his energy and said he had the ability to build a “modern France, a confident France”. Sarkozy said the priority for Europe was to settle its constitutional wrangling and agree the outline of a new “simplified” treaty at a Brussels summit next month, focusing on updating the EU’s rules and institutions. He said he would not raise the issue of Turkey’s future membership of the EU – he is opposed – until after the institutional debate was settled. He also promised an initiative to strengthen the eurozone’s “economic government” but said he was not challenging the independence of the European Central Bank. (