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Sarkozy warns of industrial wasteland in Europe

STRASBOURG, France, Dec 16 (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned on Tuesday that the European Union could turn into an industrial wasteland without government help for manufacturers hit hard by the global financial crisis.

In a debate at the European Parliament wrapping up France’s six-month presidency of the EU, Sarkozy won praise for deals he clinched on a climate package, the financial crisis and war in Georgia, although lawmakers jested about his “fairytale” style.

The praise augured well for a final parliamentary green light on Wednesday for the climate-change package, agreed at an EU summit last week.

“We cannot be the only continent in the world that does not support its builders and manufacturers. We have to help our industrial infrastructure,” Sarkozy told the assembly.

“Otherwise we are going to see an industrial wasteland.”

European car makers deserve help, he said, especially if the United States gives subsidies to its struggling auto sector. France should consider a loan programme helping consumers buy environment-friendly new vehicles, he said.

His statement echoed plans by many EU governments to aid industries, partly with a fiscal boost, which advocates say is needed to lift economies from their worst crisis in decades.

Critics argue such help may undermine strict EU rules on competition and state aid.

Sarkozy boasted that he had kept the 27-nation EU united amid the financial crisis, tough negotiations on the plan to fight climate change and in the face of Russia’s military intervention in Georgia in August.

But he warned against forging ahead with a federalist Europe ruled by faceless bureaucrats. “It would be a mistake to want to build Europe against the nation states,” he said.

The majority of lawmakers lauded Sarkozy, though some made puns about what has been called his hyperactive style and self-promotion.

Speaking about Sarkozy’s efforts to stop the war with Russia, European liberal leader Graham Watson likened the French president to “a bold prince riding out on the mythical white stallion of EU military deterrent to save our lady of Georgia”.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s participation at a euro zone summit in October at Sarkozy’s invitation meant “the Cinderella from London was finally admitted to the ball,” Watson added. Britain, outside the currency bloc, normally does not attend such meetings.

Trying to convince German Chancellor Angela Merkel to spend more on overcoming recession was like telling “the fair princess in Berlin that if she wants to be with Prince Charming she must be ready to kiss the frog,” Watson said.

Despite the jesting, even Sarkozy’s opponents praised his achievements, especially the deal he brokered on cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

“The French presidency has been a success. You have come out of the closet as being pro-European,” said Martin Schulz, leader of socialists in the European Parliament. (Writing by Marcin Grajewski, editing by Diana Abdallah)

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