It is a measure, inspired by rules already existing in the United States, thought of as a weapon of retaliation. “Our wish is that we never use it,” stressed the Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, during a joint press conference with the Vice-President of the Commission, Margrethe Vestager.
The European Commission presented on Monday 19 September a draft new instrument to protect the internal market of the European Union (EU) in the event of a crisis, including, if necessary, by forcing the producers of strategic goods to serve Europe as a priority.
- How can this project protect the internal market?
“In extreme circumstances” that could lead to shortages of vital products, the European Commission will thus be able to impose on manufacturers to give priority to European orders, rather than Chinese or American, under penalty of fines, according to the draft text. 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.
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.
- What are the other measures of the text?
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.
- What are the reactions?
“Basically, the instrument implements this principle: in Europe, it is together that we are the strongest”, commented MEP Andreas Schwab (EPP, right).
On his side, Anna Cavazzini (Greens/EFA) “welcomes the European Commission’s plans for a new mechanism to make the single market crisis-proof”. For the President of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, “consumers will be faced with soaring inflation and energy prices in the months to come” and the European Commission “must use all the tools available to fight for European consumers and for a more resilient single market”.
- When will this regulation be adopted?
The regulation still has to be negotiated with the European Parliament and the Member States. 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.