BRUSSELS: EU leaders tackle the thorny topic of globalization at a summit on Friday with deep divisions between proponents of free markets and others seeking more protections, most notably France.
The election of “America First” President Donald Trump has sown confusion in Europe, with free trade advocates asking that the EU take leadership and sign new trade deals with Japan, Mexico and South America.
But French President Emmanuel Macron has warned leaders to prioritize protections for Europeans worried about globalization or risk a spike in populist sentiment that helped Trump win the presidency and brought on Brexit.
“It’s not a secret that there is not one single view on how globalization can be better controlled,” a senior EU diplomat said ahead of the summit, on condition of anonymity.
“There are quite a few nuances between those who are more free on trade and those who want to have more controls,” he added.
The most divisive issue is a proposal spearheaded by pro-EU Macron to hand Brussels more powers to control Chinese investments in Europe’s key industries.
“I’m in favor of fair protection… I’m in favor of free trade, not of being naive,” Macron said after a first session of talks on Thursday.
Macron, who beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen in last month’s run-off, is asking that the summit launch measures towards screening investments by China in Europe that have startled some Europeans.
But according to a draft of the summit conclusions seen by Agence France-Presse, opponents of Macron’s efforts have so far succeeded in blocking the effort, in effect delaying discussion to an unspecified later date.
Instead, leaders will only ask the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to “examine the need” to screen investments from countries outside the EU, with China the main target, the draft said.
Macron’s idea has faced significant opposition from Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, as well as European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, all highly suspicious of French-style meddling in the open market.
“We don’t want to hurt investment,” Malmstroem told a conference organized by Politico on Monday.
Historically, export-driven Germany has steered clear of protectionism, but recently got spooked by the acquisition of leading robot-maker Kuka by Chinese firm Midea, a transaction that caused a stir domestically.
Germany for now has quietly backed Macron in his quest to screen sensitive Chinese investments and will heavily influence the final outcome of the debate.
The summit is less divided on finding ways to set up stronger anti-dumping defenses against China and other countries.
Beijing has faced international condemnation for flooding the world with super cheap steel, solar panels and other products, leaving international rivals on their knees.
EU leaders are expected to urge EU institutions to swiftly implement anti-dumping measures currently under negotiation in Brussels.