European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker firmly defended the EU's competition policy on Tuesday, one day ahead of an expected veto of a Siemens-Alstom merger that has riled Paris and Berlin. "We will always allow competition that is fair for business and ultimately fair for the consumer," Juncker told an industrialists conference in Brussels.
But he added: "We will never play politics or play favourites when it comes to ensuring a level playing field." "This is a message for those who are saying that the commission is composed of blind, stupid, stubborn technocrats," he continued. Juncker appeared to be hitting back at Joe Kaeser, the Siemens chief executive who last week complained that "backwards-looking technocrats" were going to thwart a tie-up that he felt was key for Europe.
Several sources have told AFP that the EU's anti-trust supremo, Margrethe Vestager, will on Wednesday veto the blockbuster merger. The tie-up, staunchly backed by Paris and Berlin, would aim to combine the rail businesses of Germany's Siemens and Alstom, the maker of France's iconic TGV trains.
Backed by their governments, the companies argue the merger is necessary to face competition in Europe from state-backed Chinese giant CRRC. If approved, the merger would create a rail behemoth with operations in 60 countries and an annual turnover of 15.6 billion euros ($17.8 billion).
Alone, CRRC's annual revenues of 26 billion euros outweigh the three Western heavyweights Bombardier, Siemens and Alstom, each of which brings in around eight billion a year. But the alleged Chinese danger has failed to impress Brussels, which insists that the rivalry from CRRC remains unfounded in Europe, at least for now.
Juncker insisted that in the 30 years since the first European merger rules came into place "we have approved more than 6000 deals and blocked less than 30." "This shows that we believe in competition as long as it is fair for all," he added.
(With inputs from agencies.)