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Foreign investments in cutting-edge tech: pure business or a national security matter?
Non-European entities, including investors, are a common and welcome part of business in Europe. When it comes to investments in cutting-edge technology, however, the picture becomes less clear. European governments are increasingly concerned about Chinese investments in companies with unique and strategic expertise. In 2016, a Chinese company bought the German industrial-robot innovator Kuka. Three of Sweden’s most advanced semi-conductor companies have been acquired by Chinese companies with military links. The German government has used its investment bank to thwart similar Chinese investments, and last year the EU passed a law allowing for greater scrutiny of foreign investments. The UK government, in turn, operates on the basis of a law from 2002, though Theresa May’s government tried to gain more powers to prevent certain foreign investments.
The increasingly acute question is: where does business end and national security start? Do Western governments – including the UK government – need to play a stronger role in investments into cutting-edge technology companies? Or are national-security fears overblown?
The Rt Hon Lord Robertson KT, GCMG, HonFRSE, PC was the tenth Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, between 1999 and 2004. He served as UK Defence Secretary from 1997 to 1999. Lord Robertson is Special Advisor to BP plc; he has been Deputy Chairman of Cable & Wireless plc and a Non-Executive Director of Weir Group, Smiths Group, Monaco Telecom and Western Ferries.
Jenine Hulsmann specialises in competition law and regulation, with a particular focus on the TMT, energy and infrastructure sectors. She advises on competition and regulatory issues in the context of a broad range of M&A transactions (including private equity), joint ventures, commercial agreements, regulatory investigations and contentious matters.
Simon Nixon is Chief Leader Writer at The Times. He was previously Chief European Commentator at the Wall Street Journal.
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