French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire was in Berlin on Tuesday to meet with his German counterpart Peter Altmaier with a plan to revise EU competition rules, and to consider overriding them in "well-defined cases."
The two men issued their manifesto for European industry less than two weeks after the EU had blocked the Franco-German Alstom-Siemens rail merger. "The current EU rules are obsolete," Le Maire had said at the time, indicating France would discuss with Germany ways to change European rules on competition.
Speaking at a separate event earlier Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the EU's stance on competition "leaves me in doubt about whether we can really produce global players this way."
Unite or disappear
The Altmaier-Le Maire manifesto for change was presented on Tuesday.
"The choice is simple when it comes to industrial policy: unite our forces or allow our industrial base and capacity to gradually disappear," they said in a joint statement. "Competition rules are essential but existing rules need to be revised to be able to adequately take into account industrial policy considerations." Only five European firms are in the world's top 40 biggest companies, they noted.
The German minister said they would not act alone, but take their plan to the EU: "It is clear that Germany and France should not decide alone when and how these rules should be changed," said Altmaier. "We will take the initiative, we will talk with our partners in the EU, with the European Parliament and with the Commission."
'Nothing more stupid'
Speaking later, Le Maire was blunt as he criticized EU regulations: "There is sometimes nothing more stupid than European rules," he said. "These rules were invented in the 20th century, and they are leading to economic and political mistakes."
"We will not succeed without a European champion that's capable of investing, innovating and keeping value-add at home. We should change European competition rules to defend our interests," Le Maire said.
The manifesto signed jointly by Altmaier and Le Maire set out a plan for Europe to unite its industrial forces in the face of global markets and competition, invest in innovation, and protect European technologies with the aim of developing an ambitious industrial strategy which would allow Europe to remain an industrial power looking towards 2030.
Three pillars and 14 points
The manifesto set out three main pillars: investment, rules, and measures to protect European industries. In all there were 14 points:
- Major investments in innovation — with a European strategy to finance technology, to become a world leader in artificial intelligence, and the development of electric batteries, with financial markets supporting innovation in industry.
- Adaptation of the regulatory framework — so European companies can be competitive globally and operate on a level playing field, adjust and update merger guidelines to better reflect other states' influence and subsidies over their national companies, and allow appeals against the European Commission.
- Effective measures for protection of Europe's strategic technologies.
- European companies must be given access to public tenders in non-EU countries that want to participate in projects in Europe.
- Defense of multilateralism — the opening of markets and the promotion of an ambitious EU trade policy, to include bilateral trade agreements and avoid any form of protectionism.
The manifesto ends with a proposal to constantly monitor and adapt trade policy to defend Europe's "strategic autonomy: this includes the essential and urgent modernization of WTO rules to improve transparency, and more effectively combat unfair practices,including excessive subsidies for industry. This work is not easy in the current climate but remains essential."
First step: electric batteries
As a first step, Germany plans to invest a billion euros ($1.13 billion) and France €700 million to back a European car battery manufacturing operation. Altmaier and Le Maire said it would be led by Germany and France but open to other EU countries which wanted to join. No locations were specified. Altmaier said there were no current plans for state holdings in the manufacturer and that commercial companies, which he didn't name, were discussing their participation.
jm/msh (AFP, AP)
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