Madrid backs strengthening EU industry, but not at any price

MADRID — Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has endorsed Franco-German calls to strengthen industrial policy in Europe, but warned against weakening competition rules.

“It’s essential to reinforce industrial capacities, pooling resources to fund big high-tech projects on a continental scale,” Sánchez said in a speech in Madrid on Tuesday, adding that the EU should be able to “compete globally” and “rival the vigor of the U.S., China or India.”

However, he said, this “can’t be done at the expense of weakening competition policy or concentrating economic power in the most privileged regions and broadening differences within the Union.”

The Spanish leader’s words indicate Madrid favors rethinking the EU’s competition policy, but is reluctant to give the Council a “right of appeal” to “override” the Commission’s decisions on mergers and acquisitions — as France and Germany have proposed.

Asked about the issue in Brussels last week, Economy Minister Nadia Calviño told reporters that she is against “changes that could entail a weakening of the [competition] policy that the European Commission has so far exerted in an exemplary way.”

“Now Britons are discovering what life without Europe could mean” — Pedro Sánchez

In his speech on Tuesday, Sánchez defended a more equitable and social EU — describing social democracy as “the DNA of Europe” — and put forward a series of proposals aiming “to protect Europe so that Europe can protect its citizens.”

Sánchez’s eight-point roadmap includes completing the banking union, consolidating the fiscal pillar of the euro, setting up the proposed European deposit insurance scheme and a eurozone budget, as well as a “true European army” and a “binding” strategy on gender equality.

The Spanish Socialist leader also slammed proponents of Brexit, as he has done in the past. “Brexit is the symbol of a time in which lies are gaining ground,” he said, adding that referendums are not the right mechanism to solve complex problems.

“Now Britons are discovering what life without Europe could mean,” he said. “They’re discovering that, by voting for leaving, they voted for reduced wealth, increased confinement, lesser influence and greater loss of real, tangible benefits.”

A poll of polls for El País put Sánchez’s Socialists in the lead ahead of the April election | Fernando Alvarado/EPA

Sánchez, who faces a general election on April 28, said that Spain would “maintain a constructive position to achieve an orderly exit of the U.K.” but demanded a detailed explanation from the British government to justify an extension.

“We’ll listen to the British proposal attentively,” he said. “If an extension is proposed, [London] should let us know what for, with what aim, for how long. Walking in circles is not the solution.”

Sánchez will head to Brussels on Thursday, where EU leaders will gather for a summit at which they will discuss a likely request for an extension of the U.K.’s March 29 Brexit deadline and the bloc’s policy on China, among other subjects.

A poll of polls for El País last week put Sánchez’s Socialists in the lead ahead of the April election with 27.3 percent, followed by Pablo Casado’s conservative Popular Party with 20 percent.

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