May 10, 2017 / 3:05 PM / 3 months ago

Fearing populist wave, EU executive wants to make trade rules fairer

FILE PHOTO: European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans addresses a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, November 16, 2016.Francois Lenoir

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Keen to stem growing resentment of globalization, which it sees as one of the drivers of a wave of anti-EU populism, the European Union's executive said on Wednesday said the bloc had to work to make free trade fairer.

French nationalist Marine Le Pen secured 34 percent of votes in France's presidential runoff on Sunday with an anti-EU platform that promised to shield French workers from "savage globalization", and the bloc is still smarting from Britain's vote to leave.

"Europe must help rewrite the global rule book so that free trade becomes fair trade. So that globalization becomes sustainable and works for all Europeans," European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told a news conference.

The paper said that prosperity in the EU, with a 15 percent share of global exports, had increased as a result of global trade, but acknowledged that the benefits had not been spread equally, with factory closures, job losses and pressure on wages sparking resentment.

Sixty years after its foundation, the EU is seeking concrete ways to re-engage citizens. Wednesday's Commission "reflection paper", on shaping or "harnessing" globalization, could lead to legislative proposals later this year.

The EU has repeatedly said that protectionism, which U.S. President Donald Trump is leaning towards, is counterproductive, with trade battles likely to harm European exports and raise prices for consumers.

Instead, the Commission said on Wednesday that the EU needed to ensure that EU standards on human rights, working conditions, food safety, public health and environmental protection did not put its companies at a competitive disadvantage.

And it said the bloc must be more consistent in ensuring that countries whose companies wanted to invest or have access to public tenders in Europe also offered reciprocal access to European businesses.

The Commission's paper also sought to help shape a common EU position to bring to the G20 group of major economies on issues such as tax avoidance and evasion.

"The G20 is not ... the only way but it is the only place where we can create global rules - or it is the most efficient form in which we can create global rules - for addressing tax evasion," Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said.

Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop and Camille Bottin; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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