Chirac storms out of EU meeting in a huff

…. because a fellow Frenchman was addressing EU leaders in English, rather than in French:

PRESIDENT CHIRAC stormed out of the first session of a European Union summit dominated by a row over French nationalism because a fellow Frenchman insisted on speaking English.

President Chirac and three of his ministers walked out of the room when Ernest-Antoine Seillière, the leader of the European business lobby UNICE, punctured Gallic pride by insisting on speaking the language of Shakespeare rather than that of Molière.

When M Seillière, who is an English-educated steel baron, started a presentation to all 25 EU leaders, President Chirac interrupted to ask why he was speaking in English. M Seillière explained: “I’m going to speak in English because that is the language of business.”

Without saying another word, President Chirac, who lived in the US as a student and speaks fluent English, walked out, followed by his Foreign, Finance and Europe ministers, leaving the 24 other European leaders stunned. They returned only after M Seilière had finished speaking.

Perhaps it was more what Monsieur Seillière had to say than how he was saying it that upset Mr. Chirac:

In the absence of his President, M Seillière gave warning about the dangers of the “economic nationalism” being pursued by the French Government. The summit, aimed at restoring confidence in the future of the EU, has been overshadowed by a row over the tide of protectionism sweeping the continent, with Tony Blair and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, cautioning about the danger of raising barriers to foreign competition.

Charles Bremner, Paris Correspondent for the UK Times, writes:

On Thursday, the President stormed out of a European summit in Brussels, taking two ministers with him — because a Frenchman had begun addressing the session in English. The scene was piquant because the speaker was Ernest-Antoine Seillière, former chief of MEDEF, the French business association, who now heads the Europe-wide version (UNICE). Baron Seillière, a satanic figure in the folklore of France’s anti-capitalist masses, was lecturing the 25 leaders on the evils of le patriotisme économique, the doctrine devised by Dominique de Villepin to justify France’s current bout of industrial protectionism. That was enough cause alone to infuriate Chirac, but doing it in English was a provocation beyond his endurance. Seillière explained that he would use English because it is the language of business. It is also of course the common language among all but two or three of the 25 EU leaders.

The incident, only briefly reported in France, could be read as a fine example of France’s Quixotic battle against reality. In truth, though, it said more about the way that Chirac and the governing classes are out of touch with much of their own the country. The resistance to English has long ago faded among the younger generation and the world of business and technology.

Just having a laugh this morning, at Chirac’s expense :)

Read more via Mark in Mexico and In the Bullpen

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