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Summit to bash Sarkozy?

Mark Mardell | 17:51 UK time, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

President Nicolas Sarkozy, acting as president of the European Union in the last six months of 2008, seemed to adore snapping his fingers and calling emergency meetings of the EU's 26 other presidents and prime ministers. At the time one French commentator told me it was part of Mr Sarkozy's style: the ability to conjure headlines out of planned meetings that in the end didn't achieve, or even conclude, very much at all.President Nicolas Sarkozy

Perhaps it is fitting that the Czechs, now in the chair, have called an emergency meeting for the end of this month especially for other countries to dump on Mr Sarkozy. One insider said "essentially it's to tell Sarkozy to shut up". That wouldn't be a bad headline.

The EU is mustard keen on free trade inside and outside its borders, but now there are fears that protectionism will make a comeback. First there was the row with the United States over the mooted "Buy American" campaign. But the threat within comes from Mr Sarkozy, who appears to be attacking the very idea of a European common market, which is at the heart of the EU's philosophy...

First he announced on French TV that Peugeot, a French company, should think about coming home rather than having a big factory in the Czech Republic.

Then there's his loan of 6bn euros to the French car industry. It would appear to drive a coach and horses through EU rules against state aid on its own. But there are strings attached. It is based on the car companies' pledge not to close French plants. If there are cutbacks and French workers don't lose their jobs who will have to make the sacrifice?

Other big car-making countries like Slovakia, Germany and Sweden are worried that the French bail-out will support French industry and French workers at the expense of their products. The Czech prime minister pointedly said "reverting to nationalism is a short-sighted and irresponsible choice". He's apparently irritated, not only by the economics of all this, but at French sniping from the sidelines about the quality of his presidency.

So the summit could be uncomfortable for Mr Sarkozy. The same insider who thought Mr Sarkozy would be told to shut up wondered if he thought Europe's biggest Toyota plant, based in France, should take its business back to Japan. If he makes a fuss it could be even more uncomfortable for the EU as a whole. But is he wrong? Should countries protect their own workers and industries first? Although the BBC's Today programme, I think on Saturday, sportingly set up a debate on protectionism it ended up with one academic gamely defending protectionism in early stages of industrialisation. Anyone want to make a full-blown defence in the here and now?

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