Page last updated at 15:16 GMT, Friday, 20 June 2008 16:16 UK

Mandelson shrugs off Sarkozy jibe

Peter Mandelson shrugs off President Sarkozy's comments

Peter Mandelson has shrugged off comments by French President Nicholas Sarkozy who appeared to blame him for the Irish "no" vote on the EU Treaty.

Asked if he blamed the EC President, Mr Sarkozy said: "Choose another one, a better one. Mandelson for instance."

EU Trade Commissioner Mr Mandelson has been pushing for more free trade, an issue of concern to Irish farmers.

But Mr Mandelson told BBC News: "I have broad shoulders and a thick skin and I think I shall survive."

Mr Sarkozy's comments came at a late night press conference during an EU summit in Brussels, where leaders have been discussing what to do in the wake of the Irish "no" vote.

Trade talks

Ireland was the only EU state to have a referendum on the treaty - and if all 27 states do not back it, it cannot come into force.

Mr Sarkozy was asked if he blamed EC president Jose Manuel Barroso and replied: "We can't blame Barroso for this, choose another one, a better one, Mandelson for instance".

"Seriously the question of the World Trade Organisation was clearly mentioned in Ireland.

I am well used to Mr Sarkozy having some fun at my expense on these matters
Peter Mandelson

"It would be a nonsense to continue to negotiate an agreement in which we haven't got anything on services, or an industry and which would lead to a 20% reduction in agricultural output in a world where there are 800 million people dying of hunger."

The BBC's Europe editor Mark Mardell said the French were opposed to the way the world trade talks were going under Mr Mandelson, who is pushing for more free trade and less protectionism - an issue identified as having worried Irish farmers.

'Excellent work'

But UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Mr Sarkozy had been in a "playful mood".

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's The World at One, Mr Mandelson said: "Given France's particular national policies and views on trade issues, I think it suits France to portray me, as the trade commissioner, and my policies as to blame for the No vote in Ireland.

"I think they are making a point about trade, actually, not a serious analysis of the reasons why the Irish people voted No in the referendum.

"I am well used to Mr Sarkozy having some fun at my expense on these matters and I have broad shoulders and a thick skin and I think I shall survive.

"I think he is over-simplifying the argument, but he is also pointing his finger in the wrong direction. "

He said while Europe had to sustain its agricultural production, it also had to stimulate production elsewhere, particularly in developing countries.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who reportedly fell out with Mr Mandelson when he backed Mr Blair for the Labour leadership in 1994, had words of support for the trade commissioner's work.

He said: "We need this trade deal and he is pushing for it.

"We support him in the excellent work that he is doing."

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