European competition policy subject to “targeted changes”

You had to read between the lines to perceive the slight change in tone given to European competition policy. At a press conference, held in Brussels on Thursday, November 18, Margrethe Vestager, Danish European Commissioner, instead praised continuity. According to her, the review of around twenty competition rules and guidelines, which the Brussels executive is currently carrying out, will not change « the existing framework ». « We make targeted changes », she warned, as if to dampen the hopes of those who dream of the aggiornamento of a policy sometimes considered as a brake on the development of an ambitious industrial strategy.

In May 2020, France and Germany, scalded by the refusal of Brussels to endorse the merger between Alstom and Siemens, had pleaded for a revision of the rules relating to state aid and the control of concentrations of companies, in order to that they do not prevent the emergence of “European champions” capable of competing with the Chinese or American giants. Other states do not see it that way, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian nations in the lead. The Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition (DG COMP) promotes unhindered competition within the European internal market. Any desire to relax competition rules is often seen as “protectionism”.

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From “Targeted changes” mentioned by the Danish commissioner is the particular case of semiconductors, the global shortage of which underlines the vulnerability of the European Union, where barely 10% of chips are produced. To increase the autonomy of the Twenty-Seven, the Commission “Could consider” authorize state aid aimed at supporting the production of these electronic components in “European installations”.

The commitment is cautious, but it is not trivial, wants to believe a European source: “It is a recognition that the current state aid framework does not respond to the situation. Approving state aid for production and no longer just for research was unthinkable. However, this is precisely the challenge: to move from excellence in the field of research to the acquisition of our full place in commercial development. “

“Angelic vision of competition”

In addition, Brussels is considering other changes, including the modification of the rules on aid in the field of energy in order to support the industry’s efforts to decarbonise. Margrethe Vestager confirmed in passing that the definition of “market”, dating from 1997, would be updated.

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European competition policy subject to “targeted changes”