Germany, France to Seek Changes to EU Competition Law after Rail Flop

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Paris and Berlin will jointly propose changes to EU competition rules to respond to growing rivalry from global giants, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said Wednesday after Brussels vetoed plans to create a Siemens-Alstom rail behemoth.

"We respect the decision and the competences of the European Union," Altmaier told reporters in Berlin.

"But we are convinced that we must think about and make decisions about future changes to European competition law" to make it possible for European firms to compete "on an equal footing" with large U.S. and Chinese rivals, he added.

"I have agreed with my French colleague Bruno Le Maire that we will together prepare a Franco-German initiative that should lead to a timely adjustment of European competition law," Altmaier said.

Both countries had staunchly backed the proposed tie-up between Germany's Siemens and France's Alstom that would have created a European rail champion, seen as necessary to take on Beijing-backed rail giant CRRC.

But after months of investigation and a rejected offer of concessions from the companies, the European Commission in a rare move knocked back the proposal.

The EU's powerful anti-trust sheriff, Margrethe Vestager, said the proposed merger could have led to reduced competition and higher prices in Europe.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said the government "has taken note of the decision with regret."

Berlin still considers "a globally competitive rail industry to be an important industrial policy concern for Germany and Europe", he told reporters at a regular press briefing.

He added that a committee of experts has been tasked by the German government to come up with suggestions by autumn this year on ways to "further develop European competition regulation."

The Siemens-Alstom veto was met with dismay in Paris, with Le Maire terming Brussels' refusal "an economic mistake."

Such a decision "will serve the interests of China," he told French television, while junior minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said Brussels had "lost the plot."