It has been labelled in all manner of different terms: "a violent clash", "a virile confrontation", "a furious row". But today's Le Monde finally sheds a little light on what Sarkozy and Barroso told each other during their squabble over the Roma deportations at last week's EU summit.
The paper has published a transcript of the row, under a new headline: "A lunch as bitter as bile in Brussels". Unfortunately for our French-speaking readers, we aren't able to provide a link, as the article is only available to subscribers of Le Monde's website. However, we provide some of the more juicy excerpts below. (Only thing to bear in mind is that the transcript has been put together thanks to the contribution of several witnesses - both direct and indirect - and therefore might not always reflect what was said verbatim.)
With no further comments needed from us, we step aside and leave the stage to the protagonists:
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy: "Nicolas [Sarkozy] has asked me to give him the possibility to make some remarks on a current issue. Indeed, I leave him the floor".
French President Nicolas Sarkozy: "I have the highest respect for the [European] Commission. I have done a lot for it. I have done a lot for the Commission and to bring France back to the heart of Europe [...] It's normal for the Commission to investigate. But before any investigation, one of the Commission's Vice-Presidents [Sarko obviously referring here to Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding] has used expressions like 'disgusting', 'disgrace', 'Second World War'. These are words I can't accept. I don't say that the Commission is disgusting [...] I've come here only because she [Ms. Reding] has apologised. I had told [Commission President] Barroso that I would not come if she didn't apologise".
Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso: "The substance and the form [of Reding's declarations] are two separate issues. We have rules against discrimination, and it's the role of the Commission to defend them [...] The Commission has distanced itself from Viviane's statement. She has said that she regrets the interpretation which has been made of her declarations".
Sarkozy (interrupting Barroso): "The interpretation?! It's not for this that she had to apologise, but for saying that [France's Roma policy] is 'disgusting'".
Barroso (keeping his cool): "I understand Mr. Sarkozy's emotion [...] Ms. Reding has said that she regretted her statement. I note that the French Secretary of State for European affairs has not done the same".
A quick footnote is needed here. French Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche had replied to Viviane Reding saying that according to him the French people were the real guardian of the EU Treaties, rather than the European Commission.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi: "We need to withdraw speaking rights for Commissioners and their staff. Only Barroso must be allowed to speak [in public]".
German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "We need to convey an image of serenity at the end of the summit. We need to avoid using certain expressions".
At this stage, the Cavaliere's interruption and Iron Angie's words of wisdom might have calmed the atmosphere. But not quite. Sarko insists that he wants his counterparts to adopt a common position on the Roma issue, specifying that the Commission has the right to ensure the respect of EU law, but member states have the final word on the measures to address the question. Barroso loses his patience.
Barroso: "These pressures must stop [...] The Commission must be allowed to do its job. Otherwise, we will not have the kind of Europe we want. The European Court of Justice will have the final word".
Sarkozy: "We can't say that the Commission will refer the matter to the Court. There has to be an investigation before. By the way, I have to pay tribute to Jean-Claude Juncker [Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Ms. Reding's home country], who has urged this lady to apologise".
Sarko avoids calling Ms. Reding by name...
Luxembourgish Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker (trying to mediate): "Ms. Reding should not have talked the way she did. Nicolas should not exaggerate, though. It's only by chance that she was born in Luxembourg".
Barroso (interrupting Juncker): "But it was you who appointed her [as EU Commissioner representing Luxembourg]. Three times!"
Juncker: "Yes, but at your request..."
Sarkozy: "Let Van Rompuy speak".
Van Rompuy reminds the EU leaders that journalists from all over Europe are waiting outside and proposes to draft some conclusions to settle the matter, at least for the moment. Barroso tries to set his own conditions.
Barroso: "We will not target a specific Commissioner. Otherwise, we will also refer to other people".
French Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche obviously springs to mind...
Sarkozy: "Barroso can't tell us what to say!"
Barroso: "I've the right to express my opinion, because I'm a member of the European Council myself. And I even have a special statute [...] We have done everything to help you with the European Parliament, which is furious on this issue. Let's not turn all this in an institutional quarrel. That would be excessive".
Berlusconi: "We need to silence the Commissioners!"
And the row reportedly terminates here, with Chancellor Merkel suggesting they move on to a different topic.