Source AP ©

Sarkozy: Europe must defend its economic interests

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday that heedless liberalization that would put the continent at a disadvantage with its trading partners and Europe must keep its identity and economic interests in a globalized world.

As France braced for another major strike in several industries in what was seen as a crucial test of Sarkozy's domestic reformist policies, he told the European Parliament that, while Europe should reject economic protectionism, it must protect its people from unfair competition.

"If other nations have the right to defend themselves against dumping, why not Europe? If others defend their agriculture, why not Europe?" he asked EU lawmakers in an address frequently interrupted with applause.

The clock is ticking on talks among the World Trade Organization's 151 member states to liberalize international commerce in agriculture, manufacturing and services. Sarkozy has repeatedly said France would reject any accord that does not serve its national interests.

But, faced with a major strike expected to severely disrupt life in France, Sarkozy stood defiant, saying he would carry out his sweeping reforms, particularly on the economic front.

"Nothing will divert me from my objectives, and that's the best way in which France can serve Europe. A weak France is in nobody's interest," Sarkozy said.

"I've launched a policy of economic reforms. It is thanks to these reforms that France will improve its public finances and respect its (European) commitments," he said.

In a veiled reference to the enlargement of the European Union, Sarkozy said the EU must work on preserving its identity and work together to lay out its future borders.

"In a European democracy it must be possible to discuss the limits and the objectives of Europe ... It must be possible to debate the identity of Europe and its nations. Seeking to preserve one's identity is not an illness" he said.

During a debate behind closed doors with heads of the political groups in the EU assembly, Sarkozy repeated his resistance to full Turkish membership of the EU and his proposal to go ahead with negotiations in 30 policy fields in which Turkey's legislation must be aligned with that of the EU, but not in the five that directly concern its accession into the bloc, a spokesman for Sarkozy said.

Turkey's talks with the EU are now on a slow track after Ankara refused last year to implement a customs union pact with EU member Cyprus.

Sarkozy has called for the EU to appoint a group of wise persons to study its long-term future and borders.

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