• France's news in English

France vs the EU: Bitter war of words escalates

The Local/AFP · 24 Jun 2013, 16:19

Published: 24 Jun 2013 16:19 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Just days ahead of a key European summit an increasingly bitter spat between EU chiefs and France appeared to be spiraling out of control on Monday.

In the latest barb that will no doubt hurt members of the Socialist government European Commission chief José Manuel Barroso denounced 'leftist chauvinists' comparing them to the far-right and also accused France of using Europe as a "scapegoat" for troubles at home.

"It would be good if some politicians understood that they will not get very far by attacking Europe and trying to turn it into a scapegoat for their problems," Barroso said.

"Some left-wing nationalists have exactly the same views as the far right," he said in a scathing riposte to comments by French Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg who had earlier accused Barroso of fuelling the rise of the far right.

Europe is "paralyzed," Montebourg told France Inter radio earlier the day.

"It does not respond to any aspirations of the people on the industrial front, on the economic front, on the budget front, and in the end that plays into the hands of all the ... anti-Europe parties in the EU," he said.

Despite the slanging match, Thomas Klau from the European Centre for Foreign Relations (ECFR) told The Local the spat was "more a war of words than substance" between the pair.

"What we can see in this latest exchange is two politicians who are short on moderation and principle and long on making opportunistic statements to make headlines and fuel public debate," Klau said.

Economist Christophe Blot from the French Economic Observatory also told The Local that the row was a "calculated political strategy" to serve their own purposes.

But Barroso is not alone against the French government. Lining up alongside him in Europe's corner is Frenchman and European Commissioner Michel Barnier, who is at the end of his tether with his compatriots.

"I've had it up to here with this and I say that with a degree of anger," Barnier said on Monday.

"I've had enough of hearing ministers in my country, politicians from left and right, saying that it is all somebody else's fault."

The recent war of words has its roots in France's bid to protect the European film and television industry from Hollywood dominance by stalling free-trade talks with the United States after which Barroso fanned the flames when he slammed France's stance as "reactionary".

French President François Hollande said he simply did not believe that Barroso could have made the comment while his Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti said the remarks were "absolutely lamentable".

Row escalates into debate on Europe

The argument, however, has since developed from a debate over the French film industry into a fiery discussion on the whole European Union project.

In response to Barroso's latest jibe, French Housing Minister Cécile Duflot took to the airwaves telling France Inter radio station that she now regarded Brussels as little more than "a form of police service that watches nations from a height, and which doesn't build for the future".

The rift between France and the EU in general, and Barroso and French government ministers in particular, has been simmering for weeks, however.

France falling out of love with EU

In May, Barroso irked many in France when he accused Europe’s second-biggest economy of “spitting in the wind” with its “anti-globalization stance.”

Story continues below…

Klau says the theory doing the rounds in European circles is that Barroso is attacking France in order to garner US support for a future bid to earn a top job at NATO or the UN when his EU mandate comes to an end.

"It's a tongue in cheek conspiracy theory but there is a lot of suspicion that this is the rationale for Barroso's words," Klau said.

Earlier that month, a survey by the Pew Research Centre concluded that the mood of the French public towards Europe had drastically worsened in recent years.

“No European country is becoming more dispirited and disillusioned faster than France. In just the past year, the public mood has soured dramatically across the board,” Pew Research's study concluded.

For some experts, however, the negative attitude among the French towards Europe was not a big surprise.

"The French attitude towards the EU has been heading this way for the last ten years. They have been under pressure to follow a German economic model that they don't want to imitate," Ulrike Guerot, from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) told The Local at the time.

"France is a special country in terms of culture and traditions. Other European countries have adapted more quickly to globalization whereas France is still battling to keep its social and economic culture,” Guerot added.

The Local/AFP (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France given wake up call as it bids for Brexit business
The business district 'La Defense' in Paris. Photo: AFP

France clearly has some work to do if it really wants to pinch business from the UK post-Brexit.

Mouth fun? French words you just can't translate literally
Do you know the French word for throat-support? Photo: AFP

Word of warning: Don't translate French literally.

How France plans to help its stressed-out police force
Yellow smoke rises around French police officers in Paris holding a banner reading "Solidarity with our colleagues, police angry". All photos: AFP

Could these measures stop the cops from protesting?

'3,000 migrants dispersed' after 'Jungle' clearance
Photo: AFP

While thousands of migrants have been bussed out around France, new ones are arriving all the time and thousands of others have simply been dispersed aid agencies say.

Fifteen of the most bizarre laws in France
Photo: Matthew Powell/Flickr

A must read for anyone who wants to stay on the right side of the law in France.

Medieval town in south of France upholds ban on UFOs
The town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Photo: Aa77zz/Flickr

Aliens take note.

American tourist dies at French Riviera sex club
The Riviera resort of Cannes. Photo: AFP

American tourist reportedly fell five floors after being pushed outside the underground sex club in Cannes.

Paris: 'Flying' water taxis to be tested on River Seine
Photo: SeaBubbles

An in Seine idea surely? But tests will go ahead.

France joins fight for rich pickings from post-Brexit UK
Photo: AFP/DcnH/Flickr

France tries to woo EU's bank regulator and other agencies.

How speaking French can really mess up your English
Photo: CollegeDegree360/Flickr

So you've mastered French, but now it's time to learn English all over again.

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available