EU industry commissioner Guenter Verheugen presented plans Oct. 5 to make the European manufacturing sector more competitive amid criticism from France that Brussels is not doing enough to help it.
A day after a French broadside against the commission's industrial policy, Verheugen insisted that the way forward for the European industry was through a "clear rejection of protection or sheltering of markets" and "a clear refusal to engage in (state) interventionism". French President Jacques Chirac said Oct. 4 that it was "not normal" for the commission -- in his view -- not to get involved to ease the blow of a big international job-cutting plan by U.S. computer maker Hewlett Packard, which is hitting France particularly hard.
Recent calls for "economic patriotism" from French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin have also recently raised eyebrows in Brussels, where the level-playing field of the EU's internal market is considered sacrosanct. However, Verheugen insisted that "there is no way back" to the days of wide state intervention in the industrial sector.
In the face of the commission's critics, Verheugen sought to talk up its plans to inject new dynamism into European industry. The plan aims to improve competitiveness, intellectual property rights, regulation, industrial research and innovation, market access, skills and managing structural changes. It will set up committees and carry out studies on select industries, ranging from pharmaceutics, to defense and fashion.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2005