Czech PM in veiled attack at France over protectionism

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Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek stops short of naming France, but it was clear his anti-protectionism comments were directed at the country.

BRUSSELS – Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose nation holds the rotating EU presidency, on Tuesday denounced protectionism and nationalism in Europe in a fresh implicit attack on France.

"Europe is facing protectionism, populism, a lack of solidarity, finger-pointing, punishing the innocent and rewarding the unnecessary," he said, less than two weeks before he presides over a special EU summit on the recession gripping Europe.

Topolanek, speaking in Brussels at a debate on the crisis, was careful not to mention France by name - but the main target of his comments was clear.

In recent weeks the Czech Republic and France, which held the EU presidency until December, have traded barbs, openly or implicitly, over their handling of the economic crisis which has hurled Europe into recession.

Prague was particularly peeved by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's suggestion earlier this month that French automakers should close down factories abroad, notably in the Czech Republic, and provide more jobs at home.

"Are we really all in the same boat or do we have different decks?" asked Topolanek rhetorically, summing up the feeling of some in the newer eastern European member states that they are not viewed as equals by their richer western partners.

"Do we have a first class deck, a second class deck and a third class deck? There are those who say we're on the Titanic," he said.

"There are those who are adding fuel to the fire in the form of protectionism, there are those who are dancing a climate dance while the ship is sinking," he added, taking a swipe at EU efforts to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.

The European Commission, the EU's top competition watchdog, recently voiced its own concerns at France's scheme to bolster its ailing auto sector where Sarkozy plans to lend PSA Peugeot Citroen and Renault EUR 3 billion each along with other measures in exchange for a promise not to shut French plants or sack French workers.

The commission warned France Thursday that its plan to bail out struggling French car makers must not have "negative collateral effects" on other EU nations.

"If protectionism and mercantilism win the day, we shall all be losers," said Topolanek.

The EU leaders will meet for an extraordinary summit on the economic crisis in Brussels on 1 March, hoping to better coordinate their response to the downturn which has seen European unemployment rise and bourses fall.

The Czechs intend to make it, largely, an anti-protectionism summit.

EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, speaking at the same debate, also called for "the exclusion of economic nationalism and protectionism".

"History tells us that such things only aggravate crises."

[AFP / Expatica]

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