The vice president of the European Commission, Franco Frattini, criticized on Tuesday the merger plan of France's utility groups Gaz de France (GDF) and Suez as a violation of the spirit of Europe-wide competition.
"Technically, the deal is not illegal," Frattini said in an interview with French private Europe 1 radio, but the Italian added that it would be "a blow to the spirit of the European common market."
"One has to be a bit more European, and a bit less protectionist...I don't like the word 'defense' used between European countries," said Frattini, who is also the EU Commissioner for freedom, security and justice.
He also called for an increase in "European patriotism" that would focus on meeting the competitive threat from countries like Japan, India and China.
The European commissioner said Italian Economy Minister Giuliu Tremonti would go to Brussels on Tuesday to "pay a visit to the competition commissioner and the internal markets commissioner to look, together with European institutions, for an answer".
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday called on the European Commission, the EU's top executive body to intervene.
The French government formally announced on Monday the details of the merger plan of the 80-percent state-owned GDF with utility giant Suez to form one of the largest energy groups in the world.
The two companies issued on Monday a joint statement to specify some of the transaction terms.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said on Saturday, when he first announced the deal, that the move was motivated by "the strategic importance of energy for France".
The Suez-GDF merger announcement came only days after Italian energy group Enel declared an interest in buying Suez in order to acquire its Belgian subsidiary Electrabel, the leading utilities company in Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Italian Industry Minister Claudio Scajola denounced on Sunday what he called "neo-protectionism" by France.