French President Emmanuel Macron will urge his sceptical EU counterparts Thursday to put the brakes on free trade agreements or risk the wrath of EU citizens who are increasingly wary of globalisation.
Macron will make his case at an EU summit in Brussels in what officials said will be a lively debate with several leaders very reluctant to give in to France’s push for increased protectionism in Europe.
France believes that EU governments no longer have the popular support necessary to pursue ambitious trade deals, amid widespread misgivings over health and environmental concerns as well as job losses.
“It would be a waste to try reconciling Europeans with Europe … if Europe doesn’t take on the role of a protector (on trade matters),” a senior EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Macron insisted that the topic be put on the agenda for the summit dinner on Thursday, in which leaders will also hear from British Prime Minister Theresa May on Brexit.
But many EU member states are loath to make protection from globalisation the priority rather than keeping the focus on forging new trade deals that they believe deliver growth and create jobs.
They also urge the EU to seize the opportunity left by the anti-globalisation leanings of the Trump administration in the US that has left an opportunity for Europe.
“As soon as you talk trade policy, two camps emerge,” said another EU diplomat.
The EU has pledged to fast-track free trade talks with Australia and New Zealand, and would do so by bypassing the risky national ratification process that could torpedo a similar deal with Canada.
Brussels has also revived discussions with Mexico, but also with Mercosur — which includes several South American countries — with which it is ready to make concessions on beef and ethanol in exchange for more market share for its cars.
‘Pushed by Juncker’
Free trade advocates include top officials in the EU commission, the EU’s executive arm, who have only reluctantly adopted proposals by Macron under intense pressure by commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker, a top EU official told AFP.
In one case, European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem of Sweden “was pushed by Juncker’s office” to formally propose Macron’s idea to give Brussels bigger powers to screen foreign takeovers in Europe’s strategic sectors.
The plan fulfils a request by Macron, backed by Germany and Italy, that the commission draw up a strategy to counter a wave of takeovers by Chinese companies in Europe.
German concerns were sparked by recent acquisitions in the tech sector, while France is worried about the possible loss of sensitive assets, such as airports, to companies from the Asian powerhouse.
But smaller member states, including Sweden, Ireland and Finland are resistant to the idea and have sought to water it down.
Macron’s government insists Europe not forget EU citizens who are worried about the effects of globalisation, so helping stoke the populist sentiment that brought on Brexit.
“This is sensitive in France and from having discussed this with my European counterparts, on other countries as well,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said before talks with the EU’s Juncker on Monday.