Time to promote the EU?

March 5, 2010

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Member states of the European Union like to think of themselves as partners, sharing in a common future. But when it comes to business, things tend to go by the board. Consider, for example, the scramble to outdo each other in attracting  investment from outside the bloc.

Jose Guimon, a lecturer in international economics at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, reckons this should change. In a new paper for the Vale Columbia Centre on Sustainable International Investment, Guimon says it is time for an EU Investment Promotion Agency.

What he has in mind is something along the lines of  Invest in America, the U.S. government’s attempt to coordinate promotion of the United States as a desitination for foreign direct investment.

The EU IPA should focus solely on efforts to promote the EU as a whole. It could develop a website and materials to provide information about the strengths of the EU in different sectors or about the regulatory regime and incentives available at the EU-level. It could provide support to foreign investors, for example helping to find suitable business partners or suppliers or to comply with EU-level competition regulations. It could also aim at stimulating collaboration and synergies among national IPAs, for example by organizing joint seminars and missions abroad. Finally, it could play an important policy advocacy role in Brussels, by suggesting possible solutions to the business climate concerns of foreign investors.

The difficulty, of course, would be to persuade fiercely competing countries that it is a good idea to pool resources. Guimon appears acutely aware of this and says his proposed agency would have to be neutral, extolling the virtues of the EU as a whole and simply referring potential foreign investors to relevant national bodies.

The key challenge ahead will be to balance the natural competition among member states with the need for stronger cooperation to compete better globally as a regional bloc.

That,  in a nutshell, could be said about just about everything in EU politics.

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