Germany, France push to create industrial ‘European champions’

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Germany and France agreed on Tuesday on a strategy to create European industrial “champions” and to seek changes in EU competition rules that now prevent blockbuster mergers of homegrown groups.

The push for a common industrial initiative came after the EU’s veto of an Alstom-Siemens rail merger that has revived debate over competition regulations that critics say are obsolete in the face of growing rivalry from Chinese giants.

“It’s an important day because after months of work, we have agreed on the definition of an industrial strategy for Europe which will be proposed to our European partners,” said French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire in Berlin after talks with his German counterpart Peter Altmaier.

Under the strategy, the two EU giants will push for greater investments in innovations, seek reforms in EU competition rules, and set up mechanisms to better protect homegrown technology.

As a first concrete project, both sides will cooperate in the production of electric batteries -- an essential component in the race to electrify automobiles.

In the strategy outline published on Tuesday, France and Germany said that “competition rules are essential but existing rules need to be revised to be able to adequately take into account industrial policy considerations” that can help European companies compete successfully on the world stage.

“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.

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