After the pro-Europe Emmanuel Macron took his office at the Elysee, the European Union breathed a sigh of relief. But all that glitters is not gold.
The new elected President is without any doubt a true European Union supporter: as the Ode to Joy played during his victory walk in front of the Nation can witnesses.
However, even before his election, he had warned the other Member States’ leaders and European chiefs. For the sake of its own survival, Europe must change and these changes cannot be carried out by anyone inside the EU. One month after the President’s assignment, heated debates have already started to arise. The reason is the strict common Trade Defence policy, strongly asked by Macron. During his electoral campaign, he made a strong commitment to European citizens’ (and French workers’) need of defence from the harms of globalization. In an interview conducted by the French newspaper Le Figaro, Macron affirmed: “The key to restarting is a Europe capable offering protection”.
In concrete, Europe needs to enhance its control over foreign investments, especially on foreign takeovers of important industries, and to improve its tools against social, environmental and fiscal dumping (the practice of exporting huge quantities of goods into other countries and selling them to a price significantly inferior than on the domestic market). The question is thorny. The balance between fundamental principles such as free trade and liberalism, on which European Union is based on, and more concrete reactions to globalization’s side effects is at stakes. Critics of Macron’s proposal argue that the protection of national and core industries from foreign takeovers would obstruct foreign investments towards the EU.
As the former European Commissioner Frist Bolkestein wrote on Politico, takeovers are essential to ensure free market. They permit the establishment of more skilled managers and managerial systems that make companies more profitable and healthier, while innovative ideas can spread faster and national industries’ performance can improve. It is not coincidence that adverse Member States to a strict Trade Defence Policy are the Nordic ones, especially Sweden and Finland, whose economies are linked to an orthodox application of the Free Market ideology, with the refusal of any State’s intervention, not even to help core sectors. According to Bolkestein, the French attempt to exclude core industries from the commune takeovers regulation, comes from the French Colbertist idea: “French wealth to serve French nation”. However, the same sentiment is spreading all over other European countries. Indeed, Macron’s ideas started to gain the supports of countries such as Netherlands, Italy and Germany.
After the Chinese acquisition of a robot- making company, which represented the spine of the national car industries, Germany started to side back from its usual role of liberalism defender and to pay attention to the idea of a possible European solution. Therefore, this idea of “reasonable openness” is supported by powerful countries with a main role inside the EU, fact that increases exponentially the probabilities to see a strict Trade Defence policy being accepted despite the critics.
Moreover, the new French President had gained a vast support not only among European leaders but also among the public. Since his first days as President, the meeting with Trump and Putin, the commitment toward Syrian conflict and in general his new style of pragmatic and determined diplomacy inspired feelings of admiration and respect. He is the new man, the one that could actually change things. This trust would probably guarantee to the new President many powers also inside the European Union’s institutions. How to deal with an “uncontrolled Globalization” has already been a topic on the meeting agenda in the last Summit of the European Council (21st-22nd of June).
On the letters of invitation sent to the European participants, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk wrote that Europe must ensure more efficiency to its Trade Defence tools and European citizens must be aware that the EU could protect them from “unfair trading practices”. Quite a familiar concept. Even outside the European borders, Trade Defence Policy will be a crucial issue of the days ahead. With the Chinese attempt to ensure a heavier and heavier presence of national companies inside the European market throughout the “One Belt Road” initiative, and the re-opened negotiations for a USA- EU trade deal, this issue will become a burning political ground on which ideological and “realpolitik” visions are ready to clash.
The 2008-2010 economic crisis, still clearly in mind (and in some cases inside the daily life) of all European generations, reminds us the dangers of dismantling a regulation for the sake of the Free Market. The lightly protectionism wanted by Macron is a tempting solution. At least it will feed the bitterness and indignation among European workers, forced to quit their job after seeing their workplaces relocated into a lower-labour-cost country. It is also a more suitable solution rather than the promises made by populist parties. However, adding protectionist provisions inside European regulation could open a chink for furthers measures that could affect the European fundamental commitment to liberalism. Certainly, the issue on how to protect citizens without damaging European competitiveness urges clear solutions. Macron-the-Reformist could have some of them.