Brussels is considering plans to launch a €100bn sovereign wealth fund to finance European industrial champions to compete with US corporate giants such as Apple and Google and China’s Alibaba, Financial Times reports.
EU civil servants have drafted a plan for a ‘European Future Fund’ financed by member states to invest in strategic sectors where Europe lags global rivals, according to an internal document seen by the Financial Times.
The blueprint is part of a brainstorm of possible initiatives that EU officials have presented to Ursula von der Leyen, incoming president of the European Commission, to take up during her five-year term. A move to create a wealth fund would be Brussels boldest response yet to calls from France and Germany for Europe to develop aggressive industrial policy tools that protect European businesses from unfair competition such as subsidised Chinese rivals.
The document warns that non-EU companies “with unprecedented financial means [have] the potential to obliterate the existing innovation dynamic and industrial position of EU industry in certain sectors”. It names US tech giants known as the “Gafa” (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) and China’s “Bat” (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent) as companies who have bought out potential rivals and now “manage the global digital agenda”. “Europe has no such companies,’’ says the document. “This presents a risk to growth, jobs, and to Europe’s influence in key strategic sectors”.
Ms Von der Leyen, who enters office on November 1, has promised that her commission will “invest in innovation and research, redesign our economy and update our industrial policy”. The draft says the fund should be focused on buying up long-term shareholdings in “EU-based corporates in strategically important sectors”. Its investment priorities should be on “developing strategic sectors” and “building and strengthening the innovation leaders of the future”.
Although Paris and Berlin are likely to back such a plan, governments such as the Dutch have been reluctant to support Brussels relaxing its competition rules to allow for mergers or “picking winners” in the race to compete with global rivals. EU officials hope the creation of a central fund with significant financial firepower will encourage the private sector money to “crowd in” to projects.
The €100bn amount would rely on leveraging public money from EU governments. The document suggests the next long-term EU budget could earmark money for the fund. China’s sovereign wealth fund, known as China Investment Corp, is among the biggest in the world while Norway, which is not in the EU, boasts Europe’s biggest nationally owned fund. EU officials said the European Future Fund was not part of the formal policy programme of the incoming commission. “Draft internal brainstorming documents should not be confused with policy” said a spokesperson for the commission.