François Hollande came face-to-face with José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, for the first time since French ministers publicly levelled accusations at Barroso of fuelling far-right extremism.
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The criticism continued on the second day of the European Council (28 June) when Nicole Bricq, France’s trade minister, said that she thought Barroso had been a poor choice to lead the Commission. “I think he has made nothing of his mandate,” she said.
Asked for his response, Barroso, speaking at the end of the European Council, said: “There are some comments which deserve no comment.” But he added: “While some people were making comments, I was working with heads of state and government to deliver growth and jobs.”
Barroso added that the spat had not affected his dealings with Hollande, France’s president, at the summit. “During the meeting, I spoke and worked with all the heads of state and government, including President François Hollande, with whom I have a close co-operation,” Barroso said.
After the meeting Hollande ducked a question about Bricq’s attack, but said that Barroso had been chosen by the leaders of the EU’s member states and therefore had democratic legitimacy.
Bricq’s comments followed criticism earlier in the week from France’s industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg. The French ministers were reacting to comments that Barroso made the week before about French views on free trade.
Barroso described as “reactionary” the French government’s insistence that cinema and music sectors be excluded from free-trade talks between the EU and the US. His comments prompted accusations from Montebourg that the EU, through its policies, provided “a cause to all the anti-European parties”. “Mr Barroso is the fuel of the French National Front, that’s the truth,” Montebourg said.