ECONOMY

EU regulator ups pace

BRUSSELS – The European Union’s internal-market policeman said yesterday he would speed up and prioritize legal moves against states that breach EU law such as by blocking cross-border company mergers. The European Commission in April launched more than 2,000 legal actions against members of the bloc, its largest batch ever amid protectionism in the core internal market. The EU executive started more infringement proceedings last week, when it gave France a final warning over a decree that restricts foreign shareholdings in industrial sectors. But such proceedings are a blunt instrument which can take years before a state ends up in the European Court of Justice and is forced to change its ways. «I think if it was possible to speed up the process, it would be good. It sometimes gets frustrating that it drags on so long,» EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy told reporters. «What we are trying to do in my Directorate General is that we don’t have infringements that are hanging around for years,» McCreevy said. «It’s either do something about them or drop them. That is the kind of policy we are trying to pursue to get things to the end game. We have been trying to prioritize.» He was speaking on the sidelines of the annual European Business Day organized by the UNICE industry lobby. UNICE President Ernest-Antoine Seilliere said Europe would sleepwalk as it approaches a major economic crisis due to its aging population and other problems unless the EU did a better job of enforcing rules to make the 25-nation internal market of 450 million people more competitive, along with more streamlined decision-making and reforms. «The internal market is not working as well as it should, and its potential remains unfulfilled,» Seilliere said. UNICE was dismayed by a watered-down deal on EU rules to open services to cross-border competition as sectors such as gambling, employment agencies and health were excluded. Services make up 70 percent of the EU economy, the world’s largest trading bloc. Jean-Martin Folz, chairman of French carmaker Peugeot-Citroen, called on the European Commission to make stronger efforts to police the internal market. McCreevy said it was up to member states that signed up to the internal market to implement it. «I sometimes wake up in the morning and I just wonder, deep down, if people really believe in it,» he said.