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“Brick by brick, Italy is building a ‘small wall’ against Chinese investments”

MIt is open to China, firmly anchored in Europe and clearly Atlanticist: since the appointment of Mario Draghi in February, Italy has been more vigilant than before with regard to Chinese investments in its companies. Twice in a few weeks, the chairman of the board has vetoed the takeover of two companies, using a long-forgotten arsenal on the other side of the Alps. Brick by brick, the Peninsula is building a “little wall” to contain Beijing’s insatiable appetite.

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At the end of March, Mr. Draghi blocked the acquisition of 70% of LPE Spa, a Milanese manufacturer of components for the semiconductor industry, by the semi-state group Shenzhen Investment Holdings. In the midst of a global shortage of electronic chips, he deemed this asset “Strategic”. At the same time, according to Bloomberg, he was urging John Elkann, boss of the Agnelli family holding company, Exor, not to hand over to the Chinese automaker FAW the trucks and buses of Iveco, a subsidiary of the Italian-American CNH Industrial. , of which Exor holds 27%. In the name, again, of “National strategic interest”.

What if it was now Rome that was giving lessons in industrial sovereignty to the rest of Europe? It hasn’t always been that way. These two refusals are a snub for the Middle Kingdom as much as a sign of a change of foot, also illustrated by the decision of Vodafone Italia to impose severe conditions on Huawei for the deployment of 5G. Even though it only ranks third for Chinese investments in Europe, behind Germany and the UK, the country has shown itself to be very permeable due to its weak capitalism.

No question of cutting bridges

During the last decade, flagships have passed under the Chinese flag: the yacht builder Ferretti, the tire manufacturer Pirelli, the equipment supplier Ansaldo Energia … The Parliamentary Committee for the Security of the Republic noted that 405 Chinese companies hold participations in 760 Italian companies “In very profitable or strategic sectors”. More symbolically, the first Conte government, made up of the League (far right) and the 5-star Movement (populist), had integrated Italy into the Chinese “new silk roads” in 2019.

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Rome then drew criticism from the G7 and several member countries of the European Union, worried about seeing sensitive infrastructures and technologies come under Beijing’s control. Returning to the historical roots of Italy, “European and Atlanticist”, Mr. Draghi prints in small touches a policy of containment shared by Berlin and Paris, but also Washington. In the Iveco case, France worked with Italy, since Heuliez Bus, a subsidiary of CNH Industrial, was concerned.

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