Monday

20th May 2019

Sarkozy claims 'competition' victory at summit

  • Nicolas Sarkozy is in favour of a European industry policy (Photo: EUobserver)

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has claimed that changes to the bloc's forthcoming treaty that he pushed through are going to have significant implications for the EU's free market policy.

Speaking at an air show in Le Bourget over the weekend, the French president said it meant the "end of competition as an ideology and a dogma" in Europe.

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He was referring to fact that EU leaders agreed to his demand that the new Reform Treaty should not have "free and undistorted" competition as one of its objectives.

This means that while "full employment and social progress" remain as key objectives, free competition has been put into a separate protocol.

Directly after the summit, whose marathon negotiations ran until 5am on Saturday morning, Mr Sarkozy said it was about giving the EU "some more humanity."

Touching on a key fear of more market-oriented countries - particularly eastern Europe states and the UK - the president said "it might...give a different jurisprudence to the Commission, [and] competition that will therefore favour the emergence of European champions."

The summit itself saw fierce speculation over whether the removal of these words from the principles would result in a different interpretation by the European Court of Justice when it examines EU competition cases.

Britain's outgoing Tony Blair came under strong pressure by the country's opposition Conservatives to secure separate wording to counter the possible effect of removing "undistorted competition" from the principles at the beginning of the treaty.

According to reports in the British media, Mr Blair's successor Gordon Brown also pressured him to get a separate text on the issue, phoning him up to three times during the summit.

Both Mr Blair and German EU presidency officials argued that the legal basis for free competition remains as it is mentioned 13 times in EU treaties.

But Mr Sarkozy's statements at the summit and at Le Bourget, where he once again spoke of an EU industry policy and of promoting European industrial champions such as Airbus, have sparked unease in the European Commission.

Competition commissioner Neelie Kroes released a statement shortly after the summit in defence of strong competition policy.

"The Commission will continue to enforce Europe's competition rules firmly and fairly: to bust cartels and monopolies, to vet mergers, to control state subsidies," said the statement.

Speaking of the new protocol, it continued: "It re-confirms the European Commission's duties as the independent competition enforcement authority for Europe."

The protectionism versus free market debate was thrown into sharp relief when French voters rejected the original draft EU constitution in 2005. According to subsequent analysis, fear of globalisation and that the new treaty contained too many Anglo-Saxon overtones played a large part in the "no" vote.

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