Chirac denies charges of protectionism

French President Jacques Chirac rejected charges of protectionism Friday over a government-brokered merger between Suez SA and state-controlled Gaz de France that blocked a possible bid from Italy 's Enel SpA. "I don't see how France can be accused of protectionism," he told reporters at an EU leaders' meeting.

He accused Enel of seeking profit over a meaningful business plan for Suez , saying the Italian energy company was "under total control of the Italian government." " France doesn't want to surrender to a purely financial operation," he said, saying France was the most open country in Europe when it comes to foreign investment, receiving double the level Germany does and triple what Italy attracts.

French ministers rebranded protectionism as "economic patriotism" last month when they defended France 's interest in having a homegrown energy champion to compete in the European market. Italy has asked the European Commission to intervene, claiming the deal broke EU rules on unfair discrimination against foreign companies, reports the AP.


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