Beyond the daily buzz dominated by the war in Ukraine, Europe is debating its future. Two European summits will be held between May and June. Pressures to change the Treaties are growing; themes such as European sovereignty or strategic autonomy dominate. The community establishment positions itself. Meeting some European newspapers, the Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager wanted to be combative. You attributed Europe’s embarrassing dependence on third countries not to naivety, but to greed. And on any changes to the Treaties, if only for an update of the competition rules, she was clear: “No,” was the answer.
“Extreme times, but democracies are responding”
“We are living in extreme times – note d ‘immediately Mrs Vestager -. The war in Ukraine has impregnated everything. But we react. The digital transition is in motion. The green transition has accelerated. And we have created schemes that allow us to absorb the economic shock. The crisis is not a crisis of democracies; yet the democracies are responding. In the same way that during the pandemic we created the Covid passport and organized the purchase of vaccines, we are now creating the conditions for joint purchases of gas and regulating the large digital market, also with the Chips Act “.
Yet, competition rules have never been put under more pressure than in recent years. The pandemic first, the war later forced the European Commission to introduce temporary schemes to allow governments to support specific economic sectors. In these days, Brussels has to decide whether to consult the member countries again to review, if necessary, the extraordinary rules on state aid introduced when the conflict in Ukraine broke out and which allow governments to help the most affected companies (see The sun 24 hours of 24 March).
New rules on state aid? Flexibility is already in the Treaties
Yesterday was the pandemic; today it’s war or microprocessors; tomorrow perhaps defense or health. Exceptional situations multiply: do they not denote the need to reconsider the Treaties and the rules on state aid? “No. These schemes were adopted thanks to article 107 which provides for exceptional measures in the event of ‘serious disturbance’ of the economy, ”replies Ms Vestager, 54, speaking to a group of European newspapers, including Il Sole 24 Ore.
At the same time, long-term choices such as the green transition or the digital revolution also require forms of public financial assistance?