March 23, 2006 8:30 pm

Tensions rise as Chirac walks out on EU forum

Jacques Chirac, French president, Thursday night stormed out of a European Union summit after a French industrialist began addressing leaders of the bloc in English.

Mr Chirac and two senior French ministers walked out in protest at the decision of Ernest-Antoine Seillière, head of the Unice employers organisation, to make a plea for economic reform in what he called “the language of business”.

Mr Chirac’s boycott re-flected the tensions surrounding the two-day economic summit, which comes against a backdrop of French street protests over labour market reform and claims that Paris is engaged in protectionism of its energy market. The French president was not in the room to hear Mr Seillière urging leaders to “resist national protectionism in order to avoid a negative domino effect”.

He returned after Mr Seillière had finished speaking. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, on Thursday issued a thinly veiled warning to France and Spain to open their energy markets, as the dispute over protectionism overshadowed the start of the summit.

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