A modest step, certainly, but a significant gesture at the political level. The European Parliament is preparing to vote on Thursday the regulation which provides for better monitoring of foreign investment in the European Union. A text that does not provide for a revolution, but that shows that minds have changed on this long taboo issue. For MEP Franck Proust (Conservative, EPP), who was one of the leading architects, he demonstrates that Europe is " In Search of Lost Time " in an area where other world powers have been vigilant for a long time.

Information Mechanism

By respect for the rules of national sovereignty, the mechanism proposed by the European Commission and expected to come into force at the end of 2020, will not be binding. It consists above all in creating an information mechanism between the Member States, in which the European Commission will participate. The idea is to point out any potentially sensitive foreign investment. The European Commission, in addition to its centralizing role in this process, will be in charge of scrutinizing foreign investments that will concern European Union programs (Galileo, Copernicus, Horizon 2020, etc.).

Political resonance

For each investment raising questions, the information exchanged will include the sector it concerns, the identity of the investor and its approximate amount. If a Member State asks questions about a project located in another EU country, the latter will simply be required to take into account ". But if the European Commission raises its doubts (which can be done, in particular, when a third of the member states are worried), the host country of foreign funds will have to formulate a response to these concerns. The goal is to give, via this obligation of justification, a more political resonance to subjects who have long passed under the radar.

Chinese catalyst

While preserving the decision-making autonomy of the Member States, this new system reflects a change in attitudes in Europe, largely due to China's actions. With its "Made in China 2025" plan, which spreads its ambitions for technological power, and the acquisition of German Kuka robots by Chinese Midea, "China has been a catalyst and has made possible a remarkably fast negotiation process", says a source in the European Parliament. The change of Germany, long reluctant, was decisive. At this stage, only 14 of the 28 EU Member States have national mechanisms for monitoring foreign investment. The new European regulation should push all the countries of the Union to raise their level of play.

Only days after the rejection by the European Commission of the merger between Alstom and Siemens, MEPs bring some water to the mill in Brussels. For the Commission, vigilance vis-à-vis China should not be done by sacrificing competition policy, but by demanding reciprocity in the relationship with the Asian giant. The text on foreign investment is one of the first concrete versions.

Gabriel Grésillon

Brussels Office

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