FT.com | July 1, 2008

Disunity and recrimination marked the start of France’s European Union presidency on Tuesday as Nicolas Sarkozy exchanged accusations with the European Commission over world trade talks.

The French president denounced Peter Mandelson, EU trade commissioner, in a television interview on Monday evening for allegedly selling out EU farmers – a charge repeated on Tuesday by the Elysée palace.

Mr Mandelson’s spokesman in Brussels described Mr Sarkozy’s attack as “wrong and unjustified”, saying that at a difficult time in world trade negotiations the EU needed to maintain its unity.

“Food protectionism does not feed the world,” the spokesman said in a pointed riposte to Mr Sarkozy’s calls for the EU to do more to protect its citizens while also noting the the scale of hunger worldwide.

There were also sharp words from Paris for Lech Kaczynski, the Polish president, whose announcement on Tuesday that he would not sign the EU’s Lisbon reform treaty drew the observation from the Elysée that he had never been “a particularly easy partner in building Europe”.

If he delayed ratification of the treaty there would be no chance of Warsaw realising its goal of EU admission for Ukraine, Paris warned.

The Elysée stirred further trouble by arguing in exceptionally strong language that Thursday’s widely expected increase in eurozone interest rates by the European Central Bank was “at best pointless, at worst totally counter-productive”.

The Elysée’s remarks were virtually identical to those made by Mr Sarkozy on Monday when he said higher interest rates would stifle economic growth and do nothing to curb Europe’s rising inflation, as the root cause of today’s inflation was an explosion in world commodity prices.

The controversies over trade policy, the ECB as well as relations with Poland and the Czech Republic exposed divisions at the heart of the EU precisely when it is trying to recover from the shock caused by the Irish rejection of the Lisbon treaty in a referendum.

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