Trade

Economic patriotism is back amid the coronavirus crisis

EU countries are reverting to a familiar mantra in times of crisis: Buy local!

Some countries have betrayed a shaky sense of European solidarity in the early days of the coronavirus crisis, and a half-hearted commitment to the internal market. Borders have shut, countries have been reluctant to export medical equipment and northern countries have shot down the idea of a pan-European debt instrument dubbed “corona bonds.”

This week, Frances Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire stoked further suspicions that charity really begins at home in the EU by calling on retailers to be “economically patriotic” and favor products from French farmers.

“I call on major distributors to make a new effort: stock up on French products,” he said on France Info radio.

Le Maires call came after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced on Monday evening that open-air food markets would be closed. Almost simultaneously, Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume encouraged citizens “to make a gesture of alimentary patriotism” and “buy French” in an interview with BFM TV.

Supermarket chain Carrefour said it would stop selling fruit and vegetables of foreign origin when there is a French alternative.

In Italy, Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio appealed to the population of the worst-hit country to “Buy Italian.”

“The first economic measure that all Italians can get involved in at this moment is to buy Italian … and help our businesses,” Di Maio said in an interview with public TV broadcaster RAI, while making clear that his appeal was only addressed to citizens who can afford it.

A similar call also came from Portugal, where the economy minister asked the population to buy domestic products, as reported by the Lisbon newspaper Público.

Politically, the doctrine of encouraging consumers to buy locally has played well in the nationalist camp. In Italy, Di Maios words echoed those from the leaders of far-right opposition parties Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni, who both asked Italians to buy “Made in Italy” wares.

Similarly in France, where the leader of the far-right National Rally party Marine Le Pen welcomed Le Maires move in as “essential and urgent.”

Gripes against gastronationalists

French gastronationalism is, however, a very long-running bugbear in neighboring countries. Belgium consistently points out, for example, that its farmers have far shorter supply chains with supermarkets in northern France than suppliers from southern France. Even back in 2017, Belgium complained that French labeling of products as French-made slashed its milk exports to its western neighbor.

Speaking with POLITICO, Belgian Finance Minister Alexander De Croo was quick to warn of intra-European moves towards economic nationalism.

“We have to be careful about a scenario where some countries will conduct a nationalist economic policy,” De Croo said, adding that “this is not the time for aggressive economic nationalism.”

Taking the same line, a person involved in the retail industry said: “Its not the right time to start choosing national products over other products. The last thing we need to do now is to undermine the single market.”

French retailers promptly responded to the call, however.

in 2017, Belgium complained that French labeling of products as French-made slashed its milk exports to its western neighbor | Pierre Clatot/AFP via Getty Images

Supermarket chain Carrefour said it would stop selling fruit and vegetables of foreign origin when there is a French alternative solution. In addition, starting tRead More – Source