European Union negotiators approved the first blocwide rules to prevent foreign investments from threatening national security in a sign of growing political unease over Chinese acquisitions.
Representatives of EU governments and the European Parliament agreed on draft legislation to screen foreign direct investments. The deal on Tuesday ends 14 months of deliberations over an initiative that for years had been deemed too controversial to take as a result of opposition in the bloc's national capitals.
"We are determined to keep our technology sectors and key infrastructure safe," said Economy Minister Margarete Schrambock of Austria, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency and negotiated on behalf of the bloc's national governments. "This is not about closing down our markets but about acting responsibly."
Concerns are mounting across the western world about national-security risks tied to foreign investment, particularly by China.
Last year, President Donald Trump blocked a Chinese-backed investor from buying Lattice Semiconductor Corp. as a result of national-security worries, and Germany moved to shield cutting-edge technologies after a bid by China's Midea Group Co. for robot maker Kuka AG prompted an outcry. Earlier this year, the German government stopped a Chinese bid for the first time by vetoing the potential purchase of machine-tool manufacturer Leifeld Metal Spinning AG.
The European Commission, the 28-nation EU's regulatory arm, proposed in September 2017 a blocwide "cooperation mechanism" for foreign direct investments through a combination of data collection, information exchange and peer pressure.
The goal, according to the commission, is to limit foreign threats to "critical infrastructure," including in the energy, transport, communications, data, space and financial industries, and to "critical technologies" such as semiconductors, robotics and artificial intelligence.
The deal reached Tuesday endorses these provisions while adding such areas as water, health, defense, media, biotechnology and food security to the scope and rejigging aspects of the proposed cooperation mechanism.
The agreement still needs the approval of EU governments and the full 751-seat Parliament — steps that usually are formalities after negotiated deals between both sides.