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The emergence of Europe’s ‘big four’

It's Europe's "big four" - new axis between four major countries of the European Union,  trying to take the place of the Franco-German axis, which has been in crisis due to the continuous divergences between Paris and Berlin.

Published: February 14, 2020, 8:16 am

    According to Italian magazine Italia Oggi, the convergence between different national interests – often in conflict with each other – this time stems from the need to reform the EU competition rules, making it easier to create large European groups, capable of competing with Chinese and American giants.

    Politico was the first to coin the term “EU big four” – France, Germany, Italy and Poland. These countries have urged European Commission Vice President Margrethe Vestager to speed up the reform agenda.

    For more than a year, Paris and Berlin have been pushing for new EU antitrust rules after Vestager blocked a mega merger in the railway sector between French Alstom and German Siemens.

    Paris and Berlin argue that the deal would create a colossus that Europe needs – an Airbus from the rail sector – while Vestager argued that the merger would harm European consumers. In late January, Vestager announced that the process of revising EU competition rules “will take some time”. Paris, Berlin, Rome and Warsaw, however, have lost patience and in a letter, published by Politico, have demanded that Vice President Vestager speed things up.

    Emphasizing that “the nature of global competition has changed”, the economics ministers of the four countries called on “the Commission to adopt a working plan in the coming weeks with proposals and practical rules to address these specific challenges”.

    The letter was signed by the German Minister of Economy Peter Altmaier, his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire, Stefano Patuanelli from Italy and the Polish Minister Jadwiga Emilewicz. The four European countries, Politico noted, are now willing to make their weight felt and in the letter they stress that they are “confident” of “Vestager’s involvement in the long-term strategy for the future of the European industry” which will lead to greater “collegiality in the evaluation of competition rules”.

    In a clear reference to China’s competition, the four ministers noted that “European companies now have to compete with foreign companies that sometimes benefit from substantial state support or protected domestic markets.” According to Politico , the pressure to reform competition rules originally came from France, Germany and Poland. Italy is the new arrival in this pressure campaign in the EU.

    The politician who believes it is correct to extend the Franco-German axis to Italy, and improving Rome’s relations with Berlin, is the League leader Matteo Salvini. Meeting the foreign press in Rome, Salvini stressed that “the famous Franco-German front should be enlarged from our point of view, having better relations with Germany is one of the priorities not only from an economic but also from a geopolitical point of view. I am thinking of Libya, the fact that part of the problems also derives from the aims of some European countries, France, which has economic interests. Closer relations between Italy and Germany would serve to stem someone’s power or arrogance”.

    Matteo Salvini’s reference is clearly addressed to French President Macron and the French interests in Libya. For this reason the League’s strategy focuses on Berlin and on improving relations with Germany, especially if Angela Merkel’s successor at the head of the CDU turns out to be a conservative close to the right wing of the party like Friedrich Merz or Jens Spahn.

    Of the 27 European Union member countries, eight of them are seriously lagging behind the deadline set for January for reforms to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. This was announced by Brussels, which stressed that the Netherlands, Portugal, Cyprus, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Spain have not yet complied with European provisions.

    As reported by Reuters , the need to comply with more stringent money laundering rules became evident after the 2016 attacks in France, with terrorists having moved exclusively through the use of non-nominal payment instruments.

    Italy, already over the past two years, has put in place measures to limit its use and make users of anonymous payment instruments traceable, with particular attention to prepaid cards and the purchase of bitcoins, while the eight countries in question have not yet implemented measures to improve the situation.

    European commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis, has received strong criticism in this regard, especially after the money laundering scandals in Latvia and other EU countries. The accusations against him were those of being too intransigent and of not having adopted adequate tools aimed at prevention timeously and, indeed, of favoring, willingly or unwillingly, a slowing down of procedures.

    The interest of the States in question in not adopting instruments aimed at prevention and control in time is individual in the nature of their economic and fiscal apparatus, especially in relation to the other countries of the Union.

    In particular, fewer controls on transactions and the possibility of using anonymous payment methods favor the introduction of questionable funds into an economy without the move necessarily prefiguring itself as a crime.

    In this way, the migrations of the holding and operating companies as off shore were also favored within the registers of its chambers of commerce, increasing GDP and giving impetus to the local economy. In the case of Hungary and Spain, the former has just started a program aimed at encouraging the migration of capital from abroad while Madrid is aiming at the assault on London’s financial as well as its fintech sector.

    These procedures have damaged the other European economies, as in the case of Italy, highlighted by the migration to Amsterdam of the main holding companies previously registered in Italy.

    Until a few days ago, the upper echelons of Brussels have always been reluctant to deal with the topic, considering the number of countries affected by the phenomenon and the guidelines of EU economic policies.

    Companies free from European bonds that act under the protection of their government, damaging their opponents and bringing wealth to their protectors’ coffers, should be prohibited, in full respect of free competition and the free market: founding values ​​proper to the European Union.

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