Speaking after meeting with Commission President José Manuel Barroso on Thursday (12 February), Fillon said the plan was "not protectionist".
"There are people who use words that do not correspond to reality. There is no real debate on protectionism regarding the French automobile plan," Fillon told a press conference in Brussels.
On Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a plan to lend six billion euro to Renault and PSA Peugeot-Citroen over five years in return for a pledge not to close down production sites in France during the duration of the loan (EurActiv 10/02/09).
The move angered the Czechs, who said the plan risked discriminating against other countries. French carmakers have assembly lines in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain, Slovenia and other EU member states.
But Fillon rejected the claims. "There is no condition in the agreement that we have passed with the automobile industry that even vaguely resembles any protectionist clause."
Commission President José Manuel Barroso said he supported French concerns. "We understand perfectly the wish of the French government to strengthen its support to the automobile industry and its objective to protect jobs," he said.
But he added that the Commission would examine the plan closely against EU state aid rules, to see whether there are "negative collateral effects".
Johannes Leitenberger, a spokesman for the EU executive, said it was too early to say what the Commission's final analysis will be regarding the compatibility of the French scheme with EU state aid rules. "The idea of regional aid would make no sense without a territoriality clause," he told journalists after the briefing.
The Commission could decide whether to approve or reject the French plan in March. The Czech Presidency has called an extraordinary summit for 1 March to coordinate national responses to the economic crisis. The summit will be complemented by a summit on employment in Prague, to be held in May (EurActiv 12/02/09).
Neelie Kroes, the EU competition commissioner whose services will examine the French plan, had earlier cited it as a prime example of rising protectionist rhetoric in Europe. "The clearest example of protectionist rhetoric is about the French car scheme," Kroes told members of the European Parliament on Wednesday (11 February). "We need to be very tough in individual cases where internal market rules are flouted," she said, according to Reuters.