Commission chief says EU's 'green' industrial plan is not protectionist

Commission chief says EU's 'green' industrial plan is not protectionist
European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen. Credit: Belga / Jonas Roosens

The European plan for a net zero emissions industry, which Brussels is preparing to present to boost the growth of green technologies in the EU, is not “protectionist,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen assured on Monday.

The plan, which should contribute to the continent’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, is “very open” because “everyone can access the (EU) market by respecting our standards,” von der Leyen said in an interview in Strasbourg with the European Newsroom, a project of several European news agencies including AFP.

The Commission is due to unveil the plan on Thursday, with provisions expected to boost and prioritise “green” projects by European manufacturers.

'Deeply worrying'

The draft text circulated in the press “is deeply worrying,” experts at the Bruegel think tank charged. Its policy objectives are overtly protectionist, with the aim of substituting European supply for imports of specific manufactured products on a rather massive scale, they argued.

However, Ms. von der Leyen reacted that there was not a single protectionist point in  the Commission’s decision, which is to invest in a zero net emissions industry, facilitate the development of new clean technologies, cut red tape and bureaucracy, and include deadlines in the authorisation procedures to speed things up.

There have been discussions on these issues, but a conscious decision has been made to have an open attitude to work with like-minded countries, the EU chief argued.

Critical raw materials

On a visit to the White House on Friday, Ms. von der Leyen had agreed with US President Joe Biden to avoid any harmful competition in the race for energy transition, at a time when European manufacturers fear the consequences of the Inflation Reduction Act, the huge US green subsidy plan.

The day before the meeting, the Commission adopted a text facilitating state aid in the EU for projects that help reduce CO2 emissions, in response to the US plan but also to massive Chinese subsidies and with the aim of “accelerating the deployment of renewable energies”.

The net zero emissions industry plan will go hand in hand with a text on critical raw materials, also presented on Thursday, which aims to secure the EU’s supplies of rare earths and lithium.. These are indispensable for the electrification of industry and green infrastructure (wind turbines, solar panels…) but Europe remains heavily dependent on China for them.

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