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>> The Wall Street Journal


EUROPE IS SPLIT ON CALL TO CURB FOREIGN FUNDS

The Wall Street Journal - July 26, 2007 by Marcus Walker in Berlin, Paul Hannon and Andrew Peaple in London German Chancellor Angela Merkel's call for Europe to defend itself against politically motivated foreign investors has had a mixed reception in European capitals this week. Comments by national leaders suggested a lack of consensus about how to respond to the rise of foreign government-controlled investment funds, lessening the prospect that the European Union will agree on protectionist measures. The United Kingdom government said yesterday that it would resist calls for protectionism, despite fears that so-called sovereign wealth funds from oil-producing countries and Asian exporting nations are looking to buy companies in Europe. "I think it would be wrong for any government to say in respect of any investment proposal...'You can't do this,' " Britain's finance minister, Alistair Darling, said in a London speech. Italy has voiced skepticism about proposed protections, such as granting the EU or its member countries vetoes over foreign takeover bids for strategically important companies. Italy's minister for European affairs, Emma Bonino, said the idea, floated in recent days by the EU's executive arm, the European Commission, was "not useful -- and also very difficult to implement." Commission officials have said they will deliberate on whether Europe needs stronger protections against government-controlled investment funds from countries like China and Russia. EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson suggested there might be a case for blocking some investment bids, after Ms. Merkel and other German politicians put the issue on Europe's political agenda last week. Ms. Merkel suggested that Europe needed an equivalent of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., an interagency body that reviews foreign takeover bids in the U.S. The debate comes as officials in Europe and the U.S. wake up to the sheer size of sovereign wealth funds from oil-producing countries and Asian exporting nations. Such funds have around $2.5 trillion at their disposal, a sum that will increase strongly in coming years, according to Morgan Stanley. Cash-rich governments in emerging economies are looking to invest more of their oil revenue and foreign-currency reserves in Western companies, rather than predominantly in safe but low-yielding government bonds. Although the U.K. has attracted more attention from these rising investors than other European countries, it has pledged to keep its doors open to foreign capital, whereas Germany in particular is having doubts.





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