5th Mar 2024

Economic nationalism bad for Europe, says Barroso

  • Barroso: worried about the recent rise of economic nationalism (Photo: European Commission)

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has urged a "sense of political responsibility on the part of our statesmen" and warned against rising nationalist rhetoric, speaking in reaction to a new wave of protectionism in major EU states.

The most recent case involves a row between Italy and France, following the merger of two French energy firms, Suez and Gaz de France, in a bid to prevent a takeover of Suez by Italian Enel.

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A similar attempt was earlier made by Spain to block a bid by German energy giant E.ON for Spanish electricity company Endesa; and by Luxembourg to resist a bid by Mittal Steel for European steel maker Arcelor.

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday (1 March), Mr Barroso said the commission will deal with individual cases in an "objective fashion," and judge them exclusively on the basis of the EU's internal market rules.

But he stressed that the current debate is dangerous in its political context.

"Some of the statements that I've heard recently are not good for Europe," he said, adding that economic nationalism is harming both the EU and individual member states.

He argued the energy sector is an area where it is better for Europe to be united rather than fragmented if it wants to succeed in global competition terms.

"We can't deal with globalisation if we've got 25 mini energy markets. Even the largest member states are too small when we talk about globalisation, the world as a whole and energy," Mr Barroso noted.

Rome versus Paris

Meanwhile, the war of words between Italy and France has continued.

Italian finance minister Giulio Tremonti met EU internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy on Wednesday, to inform him Enel would file a memorandum on Suez to the commission on Thursday (2 March).

"If the commission does not act, my advice would be for it to close down because of a failure to meet its mandate," Mr Tremonti said after the meeting, according to Reuters.

Brussels said it would look into any evidence the Italian company provides and evaluate whether the bloc's common market provisions have been violated.

But French prime minister Dominique de Villepin defended his government's position in the dispute, arguing "What we want is to give our companies the means to fight on equal terms in international competition."

He explained the merger would not break the EU's competition rules and so it cannot be considered as "economic protectionism" but rather as a move to boost the energy independence of all of Europe.


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