The French government raised the rhetoric against the European Union’s expected veto of a high-profile planned rail merger between Alstom SA and Siemens AG, calling for a revamp of the region’s antitrust rules and stronger backing of its companies.
“I think it’s game over and I deeply regret that because it’s an economic error,’’ French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on France 2 television Wednesday. The decision goes against European industrial interests and France doesn’t agree with the EU’s technical justification for rejecting the deal, he added.
The comments are the latest in an increasingly heated exchange between commission officials and French and German executives and politicians over the troubled deal. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, lashed out on Tuesday at criticism of the long-anticipated decision, saying his message was directed at “those who are saying that the commission is composed of blind, stupid, stubborn technocrats.”
EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager may rule as soon as Wednesday on the Siemens-Alstom tie-up, which the companies said would create a European champion able to compete against an expansionist Chinese company. The German and French former rivals are already the biggest in the region and the EU is concerned any combination would be too dominant.
“The decision the European Commission is preparing to take will serve the economic and industrial interests of China,” Le Maire said.
The comments show how politically charged the commission’s scrutiny of the Siemens-Alstom deal has been in recent months. Public rumblings of any kind are unusual in such vetting procedures, with the commission’s antitrust officials usually operating out of the spotlight and free of political meddling.
Shares of Alstom fell as much as 2.6 percent.
In a speech Wednesday morning, just a few hours before she is expected to formally block the deal, Vestager shot back at her critics. Without specifically mentioning Siemens or Alstom, she said that the EU’s strategy for industry “shouldn’t be formed by the loudest voice” and needs to work “not just for the few but for all.”
“A lot of our work is to serve European industrial customers” who depend on products made by bigger firms, she told a Brussels conference.
France and Germany will make proposals in the coming weeks to change EU competition rules, Le Maire said. Those proposals could include making the EU consider global markets rather than limiting its analysis to Europe and giving heads of state a say in antitrust rulings.
“There are obsolete rules that need to be rebuilt,” Le Maire said. “On this decision, 20th century rules have been applied to 21st century industrial.