Prime Minister of France hails “economic patriotism” despite Italian complaints over GDF-Suez merger

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin defended France 's support for a merger of Suez and Gaz de France on Wednesday, urging "economic patriotism" in defense of energy independence.

The hastily arranged all-French deal has upset European neighbors, especially Italy , whose power company Enel SpA had expressed an interest in Suez only three days before.

"What we want is to give our companies the means to fight on equal terms in international competition," Villepin said at a news conference.

The merger "will respect European rules on competition" and would benefit the energy independence of all Europe , he said. "So you see, it's in no way a question of economic protectionism."

France is "one of the most open countries in the world," he said, adding that one out of every seven French workers is employed by a foreign company a higher portion than in Britain , Germany or the Netherlands .

"Economic patriotism does not mean turning in on yourself," Villepin said. He said he spoke with EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso earlier Wednesday about France 's position on the merger.

Italy 's economy minister, Giulio Tremonti, met with EU antitrust chief Neelie Kroes in Brussels on Tuesday to complain about the merger, arguing it would harm French shareholders and the European market.

Italy has condemned the deal as a "protectionist" move, and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called on the EU to intervene.

Barroso has urged both countries to put aside national interests over the deal, reports the AP.


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