European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers his State of the Union speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on September 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / PATRICK HERTZOG
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday said he would seek powers to screen foreign takeovers in Europe’s strategic sectors, amid concern about investment by China.
“We are not naive free traders. Europe will defend its strategic interests with an EU framework for investment screening,” Juncker said in his annual State of the Union speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
“If a foreign, state-owned company wants to buy a strategic port, or part of our energy infrastructure… this must be done transparently, with scrutiny and debate,” Juncker said.
“It is our responsibility to know what is happening inside our countries so that we are in a position to ensure our collective security,” he said.
The plan fulfils a request by French President Emmanuel Macron, backed by Germany and Italy, that Brussels 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, most notably household goods maker Midea’s takeover of industrial robotics firm Kuka last year.
German leaders were alarmed to see valuable knowhow being transferred abroad, especially as robots become increasingly critical in the country’s crucial manufacturing centre.
Macron has blamed Europe for forgetting EU citizens who are worried about the effects of globalisation, so helping stoke the populist sentiment that brought on Brexit.
Reports said that Juncker’s plan would however be non-binding, amid concern in smaller EU nations about losing Beijing investments in their economies.
Juncker however insisted that Europe remained open for business and would seek to complete trade deals with Australia and New Zealand by the end of his mandate.