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Ford and Fiat-Chrysler, two of Europe’s biggest car manufacturers, have separately appealed for “genuine” and “drastic” reform in Brussels to support the continent’s businesses, ahead of a week that will see member states jockey for the most powerful roles in the next five-year commission.
Reform of the European Commission has become a political lightning rod in recent months as part of a row over the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as the body’s incoming President, with less federalist members such as the UK agitating for a greater say in EU decisions.
Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of Fiat-Chrysler, warned that a continuation of business as usual under Mr Juncker’s leadership would further stoke discontent across the continent at the way in which Brussels is run.
“I think that across Europe, there is an incredibly strong resistance, across a variety of fronts, to a continuation of a German-led, German-influenced Brussels structure,” Mr Marchionne said at a recent meeting.
“We have internalised the commission’s right to rule,” Mr Marchionne said. “[Mr] Juncker is a continuation of Brussels as-is. You are not going to see drastic changes in Brussels, and people are fed up of Brussels.”
The Italian-Canadian executive said he understood British Prime Minister David Cameron’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prevent Mr Juncker’s accession to the top job.
“I have a lot of time for [Mr Cameron’s] view that something has to change . . . The commission has to go through severe change,” he said.
The comments reflect growing concern among European businesses that the EU is losing the competitiveness battle globally whether because of cheap energy prices in the US or the rise of new competitors in China and other rapidly growing markets.
Mr Marchionne’s comments come as Stephen Odell, chief executive of Ford’s European operations, called for a “genuinely new course for Europe” in an open letter to Mr Juncker and leaders of EU countries.
Mr Odell’s timely letter, addressed to “political decision makers across the EU and in the new Commission”, demanded a rethink in Brussels on how legislation, trade agreements and regulations are drawn up in order for European industry to prosper.
“There needs to be a new approach to EU lawmaking – one that truly embraces the principles of smart regulation,” Mr Odell, a Briton, wrote. “That mindset must be driven from the top by the new leadership in the EU Commission and Parliament, and fully supported by all member states.”
Fears over EU competitiveness are driving transatlantic trade talks in which carmakers have been heavily involved. The goal of those talks is to strengthen economic links across the Atlantic and to give businesses a bigger platform from which to compete against new emerging markets competitors.
But the negotiations are also aimed at reducing the regulatory barriers to trade and the associated costs of doing business across the Atlantic. In those talks the US and business groups have also been pressing for the EU to change the way it generates rules and regulations to improve transparency and give more opportunities for input from companies and other stakeholders.
(Source: Financial Times)