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Belgium accuses US of ‘aggressive’ push to lure European business

Belgium’s prime minister has accused the US of an “aggressive” campaign to lure European companies to the other side of the Atlantic with the promise of support under its new green subsidy act.

Alexander De Croo told a meeting at the European parliament on Tuesday that the US was seeking to undermine EU industry with the Inflation Reduction Act, a €369bn support scheme passed in August.

“The US, our partner . . . they call our industry. And they tell them why are you investing in Europe? You should come over to the US. Calling German firms and Belgian firms in a very aggressive way — don’t invest in Europe, we have something better,” he told a seminar of his centrist Renew political group.

He later told the Financial Times that the Americans “use the IRA in a very aggressive way to attract investment. You could say it’s fair game, but then you shouldn’t say: ‘Oh, we forgot about the impact on Europe’.

“I mean, I think they were very well aware of the impact that it could have.”

De Croo said Belgian chemical and steel companies had been approached. He said he did not know whether the federal government, US states or private-sector investment consultants had made the calls.

But one EU official said the issue had been raised by other leaders too and it was seen as a concerted campaign.

Many of the subsidies in the IRA are only available to companies operating or manufacturing in the US. The Biden administration has said it would try to find ways for European companies to access some of them by the way it implements the legislation.

A task force between the EU and US has met several times and has made modest progress: a €7,500 electric vehicle tax credit will be available for EU-made vehicles sold under commercial lease deals, although not direct to consumers.

De Croo said the only answer to the “unfair” US act was to introduce similar subsidies.

Ilham Kadri, chief executive of Solvay, the Belgian chemicals company, at the same event called for a “European IRA”.

De Croo also accused Washington of “bullying” the Netherlands to impose a ban on exports of advanced silicon chipmaking equipment to China. The US is in talks with the Dutch and Japanese, the other countries producing machines that make the most advanced chips. “The interests of the US are not always the interests of the EU,” he told the meeting.

He said the Netherlands was “being isolated” but should work with Brussels to resist the US demand.

“Some of our partners don’t like the EU? Why don’t they like the EU? Because it is easy to bully one small country. It is much harder to bully a group of 27. Our unity is our strength.”

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