OpinionFear of a trade war

Von der Leyen on the defensive

Ursula von der Leyen did not achieve the desired breakthrough with her State of the EU address - despite the surprising anti-dumping procedure against China.

Von der Leyen on the defensive

There it is again: the fear of a resurgence of the trade war with China. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has let the genie out of the bottle by initiating an anti-dumping procedure against China's electric car manufacturers – a move that was a complete surprise. It is her attempt to break out of the defensive position. However, it will not succeed.

She has to endure a lot of criticism from the business world and her own ranks: bureaucracy obsession, subsidy addiction, regulatory frenzy. Not all of the criticism is fair and proportionate in its intensity. Nevertheless, her current response to it seems rather helpless and desperate.

Von der Leyen sidestepped the actually worrying phenomenon of the hour. Companies have long been shifting investments to the United States. Von der Leyen merely touched on the danger of the exodus of entire industries with a reference to the past: the decline of the solar industry, triggered by China's subsidy frenzy, should not be repeated.

As correct as her diagnosis is, her solution is questionable: opening an anti-dumping procedure is like trying to repair an engine problem by changing the tires. It exacerbates the problem instead of solving it. Will Europe's car manufacturers survive global competition if the EU Commission closes off the domestic market? Most likely not. There is more of a risk that Beijing will retaliate – a nightmare scenario for the auto industry, given China's lump-sum risk.

A homemade structural problem

The structural problem, not only of the automotive industry but also of many other sectors, is homemade: non-competitive energy prices. Von der Leyen dismissed the issue with the argument that the significant price fluctuations from a year ago have been overcome. She should not be surprised about disillusionment.

This also applies to other announcements. The return of a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) representative to the authority is a start, but nothing more. She reiterated well-known promises of a competition checks for laws and more bureaucracy reduction, but did not specify them. Such stalling tactics do not create a sense of renewal.

When you don't know what to do, form a working group: That seems to be Ursula von der Leyen's motto, contradicts Jens Geier, member of the Social Democratic Party. With the anti-dumping procedure against China, von der Leyen has ensured that her speech will have a lasting impact in a different way. The long-awaited breakthrough has not been achieved.