In this version of events, the selection of Baroness Catherine Ashton (uncharitably dubbed "Frumpy" in the EU President/Foreign Affairs duo--"Rompuy and Frumpy," get it?) as the EU's first foreign minister resulted in an EU-wide scramble for posts in the the European Commission. British banker types were horrified to discover that Frenchman Michel Barnier was chosen to hold the brief of EU Internal Market Commissioner. Triumphantly, President Sarkozy said it was "very reassuring that French ideas about regulation are winning out in Europe," and that the British were "the big losers" in the carve up of EU jobs. If that weren't enough, Sarkozy's also pledged to end the "free-wheeling Anglo-Saxon model." Mon dieu.
A diplomatic row of sorts has thus erupted between Paris and London. Sarkozy was basically told not to come to London by Gordon Brown. However, what this discourse presumes is that Barnier is there to fulfill the will of Sarkozy (a questionable proposition). The Lord Mayor of London, however, begs to differ in the pages of the Evening Standard:
So French president Nicolas Sarkozy will of course be supportive of Paris as an international financial centre; of course he will promote his own domestic agenda. His comments this week about the downfall of the "free-wheeling Anglo-Saxon" model are aimed to appeal to a disgruntled French electorate.As Anstee intones, it's likely much ado about nothing, your usual Euroskeptic psychobabble.
I understand the City's worries about over-regulation, and the City of London Corporation has striven to defend its interests. But President Sarkozy's words are nationalist rhetoric for a domestic audience.
Consider the contrast between these recent words and the somewhat less confrontational stance President Sarkozy took when speaking at the Guildhall during his state visit to the UK in March 2008. "As I have said to the French," he said, "if the British have progressed, so can we. Not against them but with them, by adopting the same methods." They're hardly the words of someone looking to bring the City of London crashing to its knees.
Since his appointment last week, EU Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier has taken a much more conciliatory line than his president. He has made a number of valid points - points we would do well to bear in mind. Most importantly, he noted that the City is a great asset, not just for the UK, but for the whole of Europe.
As we have shown during the recent debate on the European Commission's draft directive on hedge funds, measures that harm the international competitiveness of the City will adversely affect the rest of the EU just as much as the UK. Any changes to the European regulatory structure must reflect the best interests of the EU and, as a result, the best interests of the City of London.
All European Commissioners are appointed to represent the EU as a whole: the vested interests of individual member states should play no role in their decision-making. That is not to say this commotion is not underpinned by genuine concerns...
I look forward to welcoming Commissioner Barnier to London and have every confidence that, together, we will forge a strong and constructive working relationship between the City and the new European Commission, just as we did under his predecessor, Commissioner McCreevy.
As President Sarkozy made clear at the Guildhall last year: "I am the President of a country that understands that the world has become a village; that we cannot succeed alone, that success is a team effort, and that we cannot develop a policy in one country which runs counter to what is being done elsewhere." I could not have put it better myself.