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The revenge of strategic yogurt

DANONE IS PROUD of its yogurts. The French company boasts that 4bn patented bacteria go into every pot, with each batch fermented for eight hours, or roughly a quarter of the French working week. France, understandably, is proud of Danone. When rumours emerged in 2005 that Pepsi was considering a bid for the company, the French political establishment howled. Dominique de Villepin, the then prime minister, pledged to defend the “interests of France”. Jacques Chirac, the president at the time, promised to be “vigilant and mobilised” against any potential predator of French business. Anglo-Saxon capitalists guffawed. In Brussels, European Commission officials rolled their eyes and delivered lectures on the merits of red-blooded competition. “Strategic yogurt” became a byword for the excesses of French protectionism.

After a decade of such jokes, French ideas are now the bedrock of the EU’s economic policy. In Brussels, industrial strategies for everything from hydrogen to car batteries have been developed. (Incidentally, Thierry Breton, the French finance minister during the Danone row, is now the commissioner responsible.) A carbon border tax—first seriously floated by Chirac—is on the cards, which would involve duties on products entering the single market from polluting countries. New rules are in the works to make it easier to block...

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