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French minister comment "absurd, false": EU's Barnier

European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier addresses a news conference in Brussels March 25, 2013. REUTERS/Franco
European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier addresses a news conference in Brussels March 25, 2013. REUTERS/Franco

PARIS (Reuters) - European Commissioner Michel Barnier struck back on Monday at a French minister who criticized the European Union's executive arm, calling his remarks "absurd" and saying France should stop blaming others for its own problems.

French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg accused European Commission President Manuel Barroso at the weekend of fuelling far-right groups through austerity policies, the latest in a growing war of words over EU-imposed measures to cut debt.

"I'm tired of seeing ministers like Mr. Montebourg ... saying it's always the fault of someone else, shirking responsibility and looking for scapegoats," Barnier, European commissioner in charge of regulation, told France 2 television.

"But they won't be shirking for very much longer because the moment of truth will arrive at some point, it's arriving for the minister."

Barnier's reaction, which he followed up with a Twitter post calling Montebourg's criticism "absurd & false", added to tension between Brussels and Paris where politicians are blaming austerity policies for strangling the French economy.

It showed the Commission is ready to match euroskeptic French rhetoric with criticism of a political class it says is responsible for France's lagging competitiveness, high unemployment and flat growth.

"Look how some countries in Europe, with the same Commission, are doing better than France ... Germany is doing better because it supports business," said Barnier, a French former minister, from the center-right UMP party.

The European Commission is waiting to see how France will respond to policy recommendations it made in May, which include reforming the pension system, opening up protected job sectors to competition and continuing to overhaul labor rules.

President Francois Hollande has already lowered expectations for a plan to fix a debt-laden pension system, saying there would be no rise in the legal retirement age.

Montebourg's blamed austerity for the far-right Front National party scoring 46.2 percent in a local election on Sunday in the former constituency of ex-Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac, who is under formal investigation for tax fraud.

(Reporting By Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Brian Love and Elizabeth Piper)

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