Brussels has presented a draft of a new instrument to protect the EU’s internal market in the event of a crisis, including, if necessary, by obliging producers of strategic goods to serve Europe as a priority.
In a project presented on September 19, Brussels wants to be able to force companies to serve the European Union first in the event of a crisis. “In extreme circumstances” that could lead to shortages of vital products, the European Commission will be able to impose on manufacturers to give priority to European orders, rather than Chinese or American, under penalty of fines, according to the text.
This measure, inspired by rules already existing in the United States, is thought of as a weapon of retaliation. “Our wish is that we never use it,” said Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton during a joint press conference with Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager.
The idea is to dissuade third-party states from blocking exports of strategic products to Europe, such as the United States, which had banned exports of anti-Covid vaccines during the pandemic. The regulation still has to be negotiated with the European Parliament and the Member States.
Manufacturers forced to provide certain strategic information
It was announced in February 2021 by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who intended to learn from the disruptions to European supply chains caused by the pandemic.
Even before a crisis situation, a vigilance phase can be activated, in the event of a risk of shortage identified for a strategic good. The manufacturers concerned may then be required to provide certain strategic information, for example on their production capacities. In this phase, the Commission would also like to be able to ask EU countries to constitute strategic reserves.
“Member States will be closely involved at all stages of the procedure,” underlined Margrethe Vestager.
Limit restrictions on the movement of goods and people
The text also aims to limit restrictions on the movement of goods and people between Member States. It is a question of avoiding reliving the restoration of borders or the requisition of critical products, such as surgical masks, measures adopted in a disorderly fashion by member states during the pandemic and which aggravated the crisis.
In particular, it reinforces the obligations to notify Brussels of this type of national decision. A blacklist of discriminatory measures, contrary to the rules of the single market, would also be drawn up to reinforce repression against offending States. The draft regulation also plans to grant the Commission the power to make joint purchases on behalf of EU countries, on the model of what has been done with anti-Covid vaccines.
“Basically, the instrument implements this principle: in Europe, it is together that we are the strongest,” commented MEP Andreas Schwab (EPP, right).
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