The subject is politically explosive. But the simple fact that the Commission proposes to the Twenty-Seven to discuss “economic security” shows to what extent the European Union (EU) has undergone a real transformation in recent years. On Tuesday June 20, she put it on the table, presenting the major themes on which, in her view, action must be taken: reinforced control of foreign investments within the EU and exports of sensitive goods outside Community borders, control of investments by European companies in third countries which would facilitate technology leaks.
The Trump years taught Europeans that even Washington could miss its allies. Beijing’s offensive to take over the world opened their eyes. The Covid-19 pandemic revealed to them their dependence on Chinese factories, and the war in Ukraine showed the dangers that there could be in maintaining certain relations, such as the one in which the EU had locked itself in with Russian gas. Even the most liberal member states of northern Europe have stopped singing the virtues of free trade and unfettered globalisation.
During these “Three years that have seen crises follow crises”, as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says, Europeans have not stood idly by. They have increased state aid to strategic sectors, such as clean technologies or semiconductors. They have also, in the face of these risks coming from China or Russia which threaten their economic security, taken several defensive measures: a framework for the screening of foreign direct investment, another for the control of exports of dual-use goods (civil and military), a regulation to promote reciprocity in access to public contracts, legislation to fight against imports into its territory of goods doped with subsidies from third countries, an anti-coercion instrument to help the EU to fight against economic blackmail from non-EU countries or yet another carbon border tax.
“We need to be more firm in the implementation of these tools”, Judge Ursula von der Leyen. Very concretely, they have not all been used and may need to be improved. Some of them are not binding. This is the case of legislation to control foreign investment, which only twenty-one Member States have adopted. Or the Commission’s 5G recommendations, which have seen only ten governments restrict Huawei or ZTE from accessing their 5G infrastructure. Among the recalcitrants, we find in particular Germany…
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