France laments EU opposition to Siemens-Alstom rail merger
Proponents insist the proposed amalgamation would help fend off competition from expansionist China
Paris — The French government raised the rhetoric against the EU’s expected veto of a high-profile planned rail merger between Alstom and Siemens, calling for a revamp of the region’s antitrust rules and stronger backing of its companies.
“I think it’s game over and I deeply regret that because it’s an economic error,’’ French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on France 2 television on Wednesday. The decision goes against European industrial interests and France does not agree with the EU’s technical justification for rejecting the deal, he added.
The comments are the latest in an increasingly heated exchange between commission officials and French and German executives and politicians over the troubled deal. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, lashed out on Tuesday at criticism of the long-anticipated decision, saying his message was directed at “those who are saying that the commission is composed of blind, stupid, stubborn technocrats”.
EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is set to rule on the Siemens-Alstom tie-up, which the companies say would create a European champion able to compete against an expansionist Chinese company. The German and French former rivals are already the biggest in the region and the EU is concerned any combination would be too dominant.
“The decision the European Commission is preparing to take will serve the economic and industrial interests of China,” Le Maire said.
The comments show how politically charged the commission’s scrutiny of the Siemens-Alstom deal has been in recent months. Public rumblings of any kind are unusual in such vetting procedures, with the commission’s antitrust officials usually operating out of the spotlight and free of political meddling.
France and Germany will make proposals in the coming weeks to change EU competition rules, Le Maire said. Those proposals could include making the EU consider global markets rather than limiting its analysis to Europe and giving heads of state a say in antitrust rulings.
“There are obsolete rules that need to be rebuilt,” Le Maire said.
“On this decision, 20th-century rules have been applied to 21st-century industrial reality.”