French auto bail-out 'not protectionism': minister

11th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

French European Affairs Minister says the government is simply defending the country’s industry and jobs.

PARIS – France's 7.8-billion-euro (10-billion-dollar) plan to bail out its national carmakers is neither protectionism nor against EU rules, European Affairs Minister Bruno Le Maire insisted Wednesday.

Reacting after the European Union's top competition regulator expressed concern over the bail-out, Le Maire that France had no plans to review a measure designed to support Renault and PSA Peugeot-Citroen.

"It's not protectionism, it's the defence of our industry and the defence of our jobs," Le Maire told France Info radio, in his government's first reaction to sniping from EU allies and German industry.

On Monday, President Nicolas Sarkozy struck a deal to provide almost EUR 8 billion in loans and financial aid to Renault and Peugeot in exchange for the firms' promise not to cut French jobs nor close French plants.

The European Commission, which has yet to give the French measures its approval, warned Tuesday that they might contravene EU laws by obliging car makers to keep their plants in France in exchange for government funds.

EU members the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which host foreign-owned car factories, have slammed the plan as protectionist and the German industrial federation BDI said it was "highly alarmed".

But Le Maire signalled that France has no intention of backing down.

"No, it's not protectionism," he declared. "Protectionism is when you take tax or regulatory measures to prevent countries with which you trade from selling their products in France."

He said the measures did not contravene the rules of the EU internal market and added that "if the market had worked as well as all that then it would have provided the liquidity that Peugeot and Renault needed."

[AFP / Expatica]

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