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Bosch boss urges Europe to be more competitive and worry less about China

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The head of Europe’s largest car parts supplier Bosch has urged European governments to spend more time improving the competitiveness of the EU instead of focusing on the risks companies face doing business in China.

The call from Stefan Hartung, who has led Bosch since last year, comes as European capitals grow increasingly concerned over the exposure of the region’s companies to China as the superpower’s relations with the west sour.

Earlier this month, Germany warned its companies to reduce their dependence on Beijing as it adopted its first China strategy, stressing that the government would not pick up the bill if they fell victim to mounting geopolitical risk.

Asked about “de-risking” from China, Hartung said: “What are we doing for the unified market of Europe? That has recently not been so much discussed.”

Governments should target improvements to the single market “if we, as Europeans, want to be competitive”, he said in an interview at the German group’s headquarters in Stuttgart.

Hartung pointed to the bureaucracy facing businesses within the 27-country bloc, such as the process of filling out A1 social insurance forms as an “issue”.

“In various areas, you find barriers between countries and import-export relations that [ . . .] are actually sometimes worse than [when doing business] outside of Europe,” he added.

Privately owned Bosch is among the EU’s largest employers and last year made roughly half its €88.2bn in sales outside Europe. Alongside its auto suppliers business, its biggest and the chief driver of profits, Bosch also makes products ranging from home appliances to power tools.

Hartung said that “de-risking is not really a great term, because it sounds so easy” and that “you can’t de-risk by isolating yourself”.

But he added that the focus on the issue at least meant politicians in Europe are examining the broader question of “what our [companies] interests actually are.”

Hartung’s call for governments and Brussels to address the bloc’s own failings comes as the number of enforcements against breaches of internal market rules — set up to ensure the free movement of goods, capital, services and people — tumbled between 2020 and 2022.

Failure to adhere to the rules can lead to member states adopting different standards that stymie cross-border business.

As the world shifts to electric vehicles, the European auto industry is trying to keep pace in a global race in which China is a major player.

Bosch last year that it would spend €2bn retraining some of its more than 400,000 staff to better equip them for the transition the electric vehicle era. Earlier this month, Bosch announced plans to invest €2.5bn in hydrogen technology.

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