Sarkozy dangles "empty chair" threat over Europe

Sat Apr 7, 2012 10:03pm GMT

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a Sunday newspaper he is serious about pushing for more trade protectionism in Europe and tighter external border controls, hinting he could take a stand as tough as Charles de Gaulle's 1965 "empty chair" policy.

The conservative leader told the weekly Journal du Dimanche in an interview that he meant business with an election campaign pledge last month to push for a "Buy European Act" and a threat to pull France out of Europe's open-border Schengen zone unless external controls are tightened.

Sarkozy has shifted right, attacking low-cost competition and uncontrolled immigration, in the run-up to the two-round presidential election starting on April 22 as he battles to catch up with Socialist Francois Hollande, who leads opinion polls for a May 6 run-off by around 6 points.

Sarkozy's lag is due in part to a slip in support for far-right leader Marine Le Pen, whose voters he needs to back him in the second round if he is to beat his Socialist rival.

He told the Journal du Dimanche that while it was the job of the European Commission to handle trade negotiations, it was down to EU leaders to demand reciprocity from countries who only award public tenders to national companies.

"All the public markets on our continent have been open since 1994. In Japan the only open market is water. In China … no public market is open," he said.

"All I am saying is, show reciprocity. Otherwise, French public contracts will only be awarded to companies that produce in Europe. When General de Gaulle instigated his empty chair policy in 1965 he obtained the Common Agricultural Policy and pushed Europe forward."

Former president de Gaulle triggered a crisis in the nascent European Economic Community in 1965 when he withdrew France's representative during a disagreement over agricultural funding, leaving the organisation crippled for several months until the so-called Luxembourg compromise agreed to give more weight to national sovereignty in voting conflicts.

European officials have said privately that they hope Sarkozy's stand is just election rhetoric.   Continued...

France's President and UMP party candidate for the 2012 Presidential Election, Nicolas Sarkozy, greets supporters as he arrives at a campaign rally in Saint-Rapael, southern France, April 7, 2012. REUTERS/Claude Paris/Pool
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