Saturday, March 04, 2006

Double Standards in the Quest for European Unity

While French readers pour scorn on Italy (and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi) for not standing tall with its fellow Europeans and for not having the backbone to follow the quest for "long-term European stability" and for not standing up proudly to that terrible enemy represented by… Uncle Sam, the attitude of the French moralizers during the circus surrounding the Gaz de France affair with Suez comes across as a combination of chauvinism, protectionism, retrogradism, foul play, bullying, deliberate betrayal, and a return to the nation-state so often decried by Frenchmen (politicians, moonbats, or otherwise). And that, not only in Italy but also in Brussels and in Spain. (Incidentally, even France's champion in Italy, Romano Prodi, is ticked off.) The Trib:
It is often the case in international commerce that when a foreign country blocks you from buying their company, it's "protectionism," but when a foreigner comes shopping in your country, it's a potential threat to your "strategic interests." That seems especially true in Europe, where attempts to create a level playing field across the European Union keep running up against chauvinism, unions or simply ignorance.

The latest tussle is over utilities: After an Italian company took aim at the French utility Suez, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin suddenly sensed a great threat to French security and started pushing Suez to merge with Gaz de France. Italy's Industry Minister, Claudio Scajola, rightly countered that the real threat was to the political and economic destiny of the European Union. …releasing free market forces across the entire continent is the whole point of the European Union, and neither France nor Spain has been shy about sending their salesmen on continental shopping sprees.

In a Le Monde article that remained long unlinked, Jean-Michel Bezat, Jean-Jacques Bezonnet, and Jean-Pierre Stroobants report that Belgium's Le Soir is ironizing that "from now on, Belgium's energy ministry will be located in Paris" and that La Stampa's Barbara Spinelli has said that "France is a sick man who is contaminating all of Europe."

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