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by RAY FLEMING

A surprising 44 per cent of French people believe that Nicolas Sarkozy will be able to maintain good diplomatic relations with the other member states of the European Union during France's six-month presidency which begins next week.

I say “surprising” because 44 per cent seems almost a vote of confidence in a man who is showing every sign of being unable to keep his temper or pause to think before shooting his mouth off. The poll was undertaken for Les Echos, a leading French financial newspaper, and it also indicated that only 39 per cent of those questioned expected anything “ambitious” to be achieved in the next six months.

President Sarkozy has got off to the worst possible start by picking a fight with Peter Mandelson, the EU's Trade Commissioner who is trying hard to complete the Doha Round of trade talks before President Bush's delegated authority from Congress to approve a deal is lost. Sarkozy's accusation that Mandelson's negotiating tactics were responsible for Ireland's No vote on the Lisbon Treaty was unworthy of the President of France and even worse was his outrageous implication that Mandelson was somehow indirectly responsible for “a child dying from hunger every 30 seconds.”

Peter Mandelson is not everyone's favourite politician and he stands for most things the French dislike - free trade, anti-protectionism and globalisation but he does not deserve to be insulted for his conscientious and hard-working approach to the difficult job he was given in Brussels.