The CEO of a major Belgian construction company has warned that Belgium and indeed Europe as a whole are at "real risk of deindustrialisation" due to Europe's soaring energy costs and the protectionist legislation recently passed by the US.
In an interview with l'Echo, Etex CEO Bernard Delvaux claimed that there is a "real worry" of numerous energy-intensive businesses going bankrupt in the near future if appropriate government aid is not forthcoming, and suggested that without urgent government intervention an increasing number of European companies will likely relocate to the US or Asia to take advantage of lower energy costs — a possibility he described as "very dangerous for Europe".
"What is very disturbing is that while in Europe, the [energy] price remains three or four times that of before [the energy crisis], the United States has only had a 20% increase in the cost of energy, and Asia even less," Delvaux said. "For several months, the energy-consuming industrial groups that have the choice have been reducing their activity in Europe to go produce elsewhere."
He added: "It is more as a citizen than as the boss of Etex that I want to sound the alarm. We are facing a real risk for the industry in Europe."
Divided we fall
Delvaux also heavily criticised the tendency of several European countries to "go it alone" in their attempts to cope with Europe's energy crisis, and specifically condemned France's unilateral decision to cap energy prices as well as Germany's commitment to spend €200 billion to protect its own industry and citizenry.
Furthermore, he claimed that the European Commission's proposal to relax EU state aid rules would only further exacerbate the existing economic imbalances within the EU.
"This balance of power between continents and between European countries risks being to Belgium's disadvantage," Delvaux said. "I have seen the idea of a relaxation of the state aid rules, which, I imagine, amounts to telling Germany and France that they can continue to do what they are doing."
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Delvaux also suggested that the European Commission's recent plan to create European Sovereignty Fund, although a welcome prospect, would not solve the urgent problems currently faced by Europe's industry.
"This fund will not produce its effects until ten years from now," Delvaux explained. "This is not an answer to the problems that we will encounter in the short term in countries that are not able to massively help their industry."
One immediate short-term measure advocated by Delvaux, however, is the introduction of an energy price cap, "ideally at the European level, by default at the Belgian level". He described this as "undoubtedly the most suitable temporary solution, even if it risks costing the Member States".
He added: "In the absence of a European solution, we must take our fate into our own hands, and create the conditions for Belgian industry to remain competitive. I understand that we have to help the citizens, and therefore automatic indexation for low and medium salaries goes without saying."
"But we must prevent companies that may be generating a lot of activity and a lot of jobs from leaving us. Because if they do, they will do it quickly, and they will take one or two generations to come back — if they come back."