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19th Jan 2019

EU commissioner lashes out against protectionism

EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek have criticised the growing trend towards protectionism in Europe, implicitly targeting France.

Speaking in Paris at a competition meeting of the Organisation for economic cooperation and development (OECD) on Tuesday (17 February), Ms Kroes strongly condemned protectionism and its "false promises" that only lead Europe "deeper into the hole" it was already in.

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  • Nicolas Sarkozy is giving a headache to EU's presidency and commission (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

"Of course, no politician will admit to protectionist policies. It will be presented under better colours, using national money to protect national jobs. That is rhetoric, not reality," she added.

"We have to protect people by creating for them real jobs with real futures, not jobs that only exist as long as the taxpayers' money exists. That takes leadership. Leadership is not bribing multinationals and stealing jobs from one's neighbours," she argued.

This was an apparent allusion to French President Nicolas Sarkozy's previous calls on French car manufacturers to return home from countries like the Czech Republic.

France is also under the commission's scrutiny for its planned state aid to the national car industry worth €6.5billion, which could be in breach with EU law.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said last week that manufacturers were asked not to close French factories during the term of any loan but insisted that the plan was not protectionist.

Ms Kroes stressed that state aid for the national car industries must be targeted at reforming the sector into green technologies if Europe wants to stay competitive in the global economy.

First class and second class Europe

For his part, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, currently in charge of the EU, repeated his criticism against protectionism, but avoided naming France directly.

"Europe is facing protectionism, populism, a lack of solidarity, finger-pointing, punishing the innocent and rewarding the unnecessary," he said at a Brussels conference, according to AFP news agency.

"Are we really all in the same boat or do we have different decks? Do we have a first-class deck, a second-class deck and a third-class deck? There are those who say we're on the Titanic," Mr Topolanek noted.

He also questioned EU's climate-change targets amidst the economic crisis. "There are those who are adding fuel to the fire in the form of protectionism, there are those who are dancing a climate dance while the ship is sinking," he said.

EU commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, speaking at the same debate as Mr Topolanek, also called for "the exclusion of economic nationalism and protectionism."

"History tells us that such things only aggravate crises," he pointed out.

The Czech EU presidency has called for an extraordinary summit on the economic crisis in Brussels on 1 March, with Prague intending to enforce a focus on combatting protectionism.

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