Paris woos Commission on industrial policy

This article is part of our special report Industrial Policy.

Stimulating innovation and preventing companies from fleeing abroad are the keys to success for a new EU industrial policy, stressed French Industry Minister Christian Estrosi during a visit to Brussels yesterday (2 September). But one of the main potential weapons of the strategy, the controversial "country of origin" labelling, remains blocked at EU Council level.

Following their meeting in Brussels, EU Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani and Estrosi told journalists that they were "on the same wavelength" when discussing a blueprint for a reformed EU Industrial Policy, to be unveiled in October.

As reported by EURACTIV France, Paris has taken a clear line in recent weeks on how it wants French industrial policy to change in the coming years. Now Paris is bringing the same message to Brussels.

Following their meeting in Brussels, EU Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani and Estrosi told journalists that they were "on the same wavelength" when discussing a blueprint for a reformed EU Industrial Policy, to be unveiled in October.

As reported by EURACTIV France, Paris has taken a clear line in recent weeks on how it wants French industrial policy to change in the coming years. Now Paris is bringing the same message to Brussels.

Flanked by newly-appointed French Industry Ambassador to the EU Yves Jacob, Estrosi emphasised that industrial innovation – from small to medium and large-sized companies – was the key to rejuvenating European industry.

"Innovation will be the true engine of growth" in any new industrial policy, he said.

Tajani concurred, arguing that without innovation, which guarantees quality, no adequate industrial reform could take place. This was why the Commission had insisted on member states guaranteeing a minimum 3% of government spending on innovation and research in the 2020 strategy for growth, which will govern EU economic policy for the coming decade, he added (EURACTIV 03/02/10).

Reversing outsourcing

However, innovation cannot take place while European industries continue to be tempted to move their operations abroad, the French minister stressed.

This question has provoked controversy in France, where attempts by President Nicolas Sarkozy to shore up industrial production have led to accusations of state protectionism.

Estrosi denied the charge earlier this week (31 August), and hammered home the point in Brussels yesterday, arguing that there is no "protectionism" at play. Rather, he claimed, it is a simple economic fact that the EU must curb outsourcing if it is to remain competitive.

One of the cornerstones of Paris's strategy to reverse outsourcing is the drive to ensure all French products are labelled "made in France". This, too, has proved controversial and highly divisive when raised at European level.

'Made in' battle set to rage on

The European Commission has attempted to bring in "country of origin" labelling in the past (see 'Background'), but these efforts have been resisted by a majority of EU countries.

In November 2009, a large majority in Parliament voted in favour of the Commission's original plan, and urged the EU executive to keep the pressure on member states to fall into line.

The issue is expected to be raised at the forthcoming 16 September summit of EU leaders, but will most likely remain blocked.

Meanwhile, the Commission's strategic document is expected in October 2010, and will, according to Tajani, show European industry a way forward to compete with China and India in the coming decades.

EU industry ministers began mapping out a new industrial policy for Europe in March 2010, touching on innovation, SMEs and eco-friendly growth, among other topics (EURACTIV 02/03/10).

The new industrial policy will be heavy on innovation and creating a "knowledge-based economy," but there is also a growing appreciation of the role played by manufacturing industries in creating wealth, ministers noted.

One of the steps favoured by some quarters is the so-called imposition of "country of origin" labelling on EU products, which it is argued will safeguard industrial output within the common market.

Indeed, the European Commission first presented a "made in" proposal as early as 2005, but this was blocked as many member states were, and remain, firmly opposed.

  • October 2010: Expected release of Commission's strategic document for reforming EU industrial policy.

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