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Chirac bolts EU summit over switch to English

BRUSSELS -- President Jacques Chirac of France walked out of a European Union summit briefly yesterday when the French head of the EU's industry lobby addressed leaders of the bloc in English.

A French official said Chirac, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, and Finance Minister Thierry Breton left the room when Ernest-Antoine Seilliere, head of the UNICE business lobby, switched from French to English at a summit session with the EU's so-called social partners -- employers and unions.

''Representing 20 million companies in 39 organizations in 33 countries, I will speak English, the language of business," the former head of the French employers' organization said.

A UNICE spokeswoman said Seilliere began his speech in French before switching to the language of Shakespeare and Milton Friedman.

Chirac missed Seilliere urging leaders to ''resist national protectionism in order to avoid a negative domino effect" in the EU's internal market, in a veiled criticism of France and others who have tried to block cross-border takeovers.

Seilliere did not want to comment on the incident. ''He wishes to concentrate on the business message," a spokeswoman said.

Chirac returned to hear another Frenchman, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, address the leaders in French.

Trichet, a former Bank of France governor, almost always speaks English at the Frankfurt-based ECB. English, French, and German are the working languages of the 25-nation bloc, which has no single official language. All 20 languages of the member states are used at summits, ministerial meetings, and in the European Parliament.

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