British Prime Minister David Cameron ran into French opposition today in his bid to reach an EU summit deal on a major new trade accord with Pakistan.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised objections to opening up Europe’s doors to Pakistan trade – because of a threat to textiles workers in the Limoges region.
Limoges, best known for its porcelain and enamel, is home to a thriving bedlinen and carpet industry said to be worth more than €14m a year to the country.
But EU officials said that was only a quarter of the value of Germany’s textiles trade with Pakistan and only a 10th that of Italy.
The issue was just one of a number of allegedly “protectionist” objections raised to plans to speed a special trade deal through in response to the economic plight facing Pakistan following devastating floods which have killed 1,600 people, displaced 20 million and now threaten the nation’s economy.
The UK Prime Minister insisted the scale of the economic crisis warrants a European response way beyond the vital immediate humanitarian effort already mounted by the EU.
And free-trade objections raised at a one-day summit in Brussels were seen as undermining the summit’s determination to reflect the EU as an international player.
Summit conclusions due to be agreed this afternoon say: “The European Union must be an effective global actor, ready to share in the responsibility for global security and to take the lead in the definition of joint responses to common challenges. (The Union) Remains the largest donor to countries in need, it is the first trading power in the world and it has developed a common security and defence policy supported by crisis management tools which should be further reinforced.”
Failure to settle the outlines of a preferential trade deal with Pakistan would be embarrassing – but a second embarrassment was averted when EU foreign ministers, attending the summit, endorsed a sweeping new trade deal with South Korea.
It had been threatened by Italian concerns over the threat to Italy’s car industry from cheap South Korean imports, but those objections were settled overnight by delaying the introduction of reduced export tariffs on cars.
On a trade deal with Pakistan, one UK official at the summit said: “We want a political commitment to find a way to reduce tariffs on Pakistan imports in the near to medium term: we’d like something in a matter of months.”
Also threatening the EU leaders' display of solidarity was growing tension over the French policy of deporting Roma ethnic minority communities.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is furious with the European Commission after Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding branded the policy a “disgrace” and called for legal action.
She went further, declaring: “I personally have been appalled by a situation which gave the impression that people are being removed from a member state of the EU just because they belong to a certain ethnic minority. This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War.”
Today, EU officials insisted the issue was not on the summit agenda – but it was the major talking point in the corridors and still threatened to overshadow the meeting if President Sarkozy chose to raise it.
He insists that France is breaking no laws with its Roma policy, but one summit spokesman said: “It is, of course, right that the Commission must ensure that member states comply with EU laws, including the free movement of people around the Union and the freedom to live and work in an EU country.
“We say let that inquiry take its course – but this issue is not on the summit agenda. What is important is our commitment to our global partnerships and that is what this summit is all about.”