France and Germany push for fast-track subsidies after US row

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PARIS — French and German economy ministers are urging European Union regulators to let them fast-track subsidies for “key industrial sectors” as they push for more support to companies after a row over a massive U.S. green support package.

France’s Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a joint statement that they wanted “targeted subsidies and tax credits” for industry via umbrella state aid programs that wouldn’t require lengthy checks from the European Commission.

The two ministers are also planning to travel to Washington in early January with Commission officials to discuss the consequences of the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, the French and German officials told reporters at a briefing.

Their statement is the latest pressure from France and Germany against EU subsidy rules they see as too restrictive when they want to support companies hit hard by soaring energy costs. European industry has complained that U.S. subsidies were the last straw in making European-made goods less competitive with global rivals.

The French and German statement calls for criteria on what aid could be approved in advance and for “general national support” programs. The Commission currently operates by requiring governments to ask permission before granting most aid to companies.

Officials wouldn’t give details on whether they wanted aid to be disbursed without a Commission decision, saying it would be up to the Commission to make proposals.

The Commission last week asked governments for comments on another change to crisis state aid rules which have already allowed EU member countries to spend billions of euros to help economies hit by the effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on energy prices.

Le Maire and Habeck also called on the EU and the U.S. to agree on “mutual recognition of standards and access to subsidy” programs and to discuss this at a 2023 meeting of the EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council. They also repeated a call for Washington to open up its planned subsidies to European companies.