This article is part of our special report Europe’s Industry : Halting the Decline.
The French industry minister Arnaud Montebourg has launched a broadside at the European Commission, arguing that Chinese and the US industries "don't have Brussels on their backs" when accepting state aid. A group of seven countries, including France and Germany, have sent a letter urging the EU Executive to "switch gear" on industrial policy.
Industry ministers from France, Germany and five other EU countries sent a letter to Brussels on Thursday (11 October) urging more protection from unfair competition for Europe's struggling manufacturing industries.
Ministers from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg and Romania signed the letter.
"We are experiencing de-industrialisation, Europe must switch gear," Montebourg said in a video address following a meeting of EU industry ministers in Luxembourg.
"When Americans, Chinese, Indians, Koreans and many others choose to subsidise their industry, they don't have Brussels on their backs," the minister said, referring to the EU's strict state aid rules.
"What Brussels forbids us to do, all other countries do. We need to reorient Europe because it is no longer adapted to the unfairness of world trade," Montebourg hammered the message home.
Industrial production across the 27-member bloc has shrunk in the past five years and millions of jobs have been lost, with the automobile sector having to cut overcapacity in France, Spain and Italy.
Industrial policy revival?
This is not the first public outing against the European Commission by Arnaud Montebourg, who has built a reputation for his fierce attacks against globalisation and the EU Executive's perceived over-liberal stances on economic policy.
This time, the French minister applauded a Commission policy paper, presented the day before, which urged a "new industrial revolution" in Europe and set out a target to increase the share of industrial production to 20% of the EU's GDP by 2020, up from 16% currently.
"At last, the bar is set very high," Montebourg said in reference to the 20% target.
But Europe should go further, the French minister continued, suggesting that the seven countries wanted more regular meetings of the bloc's 27 industry ministers. These would examine industrial sectors one by one, he explained, citing the steel, automotive and digital industries.
One key demand from the seven-country group is to allow a level playing field on state aid to new industrial sectors at the centre of what Montebourg called the "third industrial revolution", such as nanotechnology, smart grids and new materials.
"All our global competitors do it, so we must either protect ourselves against them or do it ourselves."