An Unfortunate Turn for Europe

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Antonio Bavasso, Jun 26, 2007

As the curtain closes on the Brussels summit it is time to reflect on the implications of the removal of the reference to “free and undistorted” competition from the Union’s objectives. Commissioner Kroes is of course saying today that it is business as usual but it is hard to ignore the statements attributed to the instigator of this change. President Sarkozy, who refers to competition as a “dogma” and salutes a new era for European champions. This short-term view is bad news for Europe and, if not resisted, has the potential to generate a downward spiral in international relations.

Many argue that the references now contained in the separate protocol do not change the status quo (and President Barroso appears to believe that this adds legal certainty) but the political significance of the change cannot be overstated. President Sarkozy has little in common with the Leopard, the protagonist of the novel set in 19th century Sicily, who famously said that “everything must change so that everything remains the same.” Sarkozy wanted a change and he obtained it. In my view stating otherwise is either delusional or window dressing.

The change is designed to relegate competition policy to an ancillary function within the establishment of the internal market. This is an attempt to set back in one night half a century of enforcement policy and case law. Competition policy is demoted …

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