France 'a problem for Europe': Mario Monti

30th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

ROME, July 30 (AFP) - Hauled back from Brussels after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reneged on a promise to keep him as Italy's EU commissioner, Mario Monti has turned to a spot of score settling with a fire-spitting assessment of his own government and some of its EU partners.

ROME, July 30 (AFP) - Hauled back from Brussels after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reneged on a promise to keep him as Italy's EU commissioner, Mario Monti has turned to a spot of score settling with a fire-spitting assessment of his own government and some of its EU partners.

The outgoing 61-year-old competitions commissioner neither hid his disappointment nor minced his words, particularly where Berlusconi is concerned, in an interview published Friday in the daily Corriere della Sera.

"Both of us agreed that I would continue on as EU commissioner," said Monti, who instead found himself sidelined because of a domestic reshuffle forced on a harassed Berlusconi by jockeying coalition partners.

His nomination to a third mandate, beginning in November, seemed a formality after it was supported by Italy's employers federation, Confindustria. But at the last moment, Berlusconi sacrificed him on the altar of political expediency.

Monti is to be succeeded by European Affairs Minister Rocco Buttiglione, a member of the Christian Democrat UDC party, a bustling junior partner in government which wanted a key post.

In the changeover, Italy will lose the Competitions post, one of the most influential in the Brussels executive arm.

Monti learned about the development in the press and it has clearly embittered him.

"An Italian who has not made many friends in recent years in Paris and Berlin because he applied to France and Germany the rules which apply to all the others, could represent an opportunity," he said.

"For this reason, I refused other public posts in the past, and to my enormous regret I am unable to continue" in Brussels.

Just three weeks ago Monti said he had turned down a request from Berlusconi to become Italy's new finance minister.

In the newspaper interview, Monti also took a swipe at his successor, whom he said negotiated an accord on takeover bids during Italy's six-month EU presidency last year "which made the Germans smile".

"Today, Italian companies can be the target of hostile takeovers, not the Germans," he said.

Monti's inflexibility in applying EU rules has inspired fear. Nicknamed "Super Mario" for bending US giants Microsoft and General Electric to his will, he also drew the ire of French and German political and business leaders for making them hand back state aid, deemed illegal under EU competition rules.

Monti believes his major achievement in Brussels was in making Italians respected.

"When I arrived in Brussels, my biggest problem was to be taken seriously on economic questions, the fact of my being Italian robbed me of credibility," he told the newspaper

And Monti believes the Berlusconi government has been too compliant in its dealings with France and Germany. "There's no point in doing favours which will not be returned, to win the sympathy of the powerful."

The outgoing EU official said that Italy should understand "that France and Germany, to which the Union owes a great deal, today represents a brake on integration."

"Ten years of experience in Brussels have convinced me that, to be competitive, Europe must be more liberal."

"In simple terms, the Blair-Aznar alignment has shown itself to be more useful than the Chirac-Schroeder one," he said.

He is particularly scathing of France, which he scores 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. It cannot handle its successes, and often it doesn't see them, and attributes its setbacks, which are often imaginary, to Europe."

Monti's term as EU commissioner ends when the new Brussels executive team takes over in November.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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