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Paris wants to accelerate the industrial reconquest of Europe

Published on Jan. 2022 at 20:

Bruno Le Maire kicked off the great French ambition of the moment on Thursday. Give Europe back the technological independence it has lost to the United States and China in the major economic sectors of the future. By organizing a conference in Bercy entitled “A stronger industry for a more sovereign Europe”, the Minister of Economy and Finance insisted that strategic autonomy was at the heart of the challenges of the French presidency of the European Union in the economic field.

“There is an exceptional alignment of the planets, he launched while inaugurating the forum which brought together European industrialists, civil servants and elected officials, to get out now, immediately, of the decades of dependence which have made the vulnerability and the weakness of Europe”. The health crisis has made all the countries of the Union aware that rich Europe lacked even the active ingredients that make up its basic medicines. And the end of the crisis was accompanied by

a shortage of components and critical materials constrained by the explosion in demand worldwide.

The fashionable IPCEIs

First axis of reconquest: the relocation in Europe of new value chains in the most strategic sectors. The Europeans have decided to take advantage of an instrument created by the Commission, the Important Projects of Common European Interest, the IPCEIs, which are useful and effective. They make it possible to mobilize billions of euros of investment without risking the wrath of the European competition department, provided, however, that they federate several European countries. Three projects of this type have already been launched, including two on electric batteries, the third on micro-electronics.

Paris wants to take advantage of the French presidency of the European Union to launch – more precisely notify or pre-notify the Commission – four new projects of this type around the sectors considered the most strategic, semiconductors, hydrogen, health and data storage.

The reindustrialisation of Europe does not look easy even if the speakers at the conference underlined that the gray matter and the know-how were well present on the continent. But it runs “the risk that we go from a technological dependence to a dependence on raw materials”, warned Philippe Varin, l author of a report on this subject. It confirms what numerous European assessments have been updating for years.

Europe and France are almost 100% dependent on the outside for matters so-called critical raw materials, such as nickel, cobalt and lithium, which are essential for the manufacture of electric batteries. China provides 93% of the magnesium and 99 % of rare earths and it does not hesitate to restrict its export. The solutions proposed to reduce this dependence are not a panacea but they are inevitable as explained Thursday Bernd Schäfer, president of 1379027 the Alliance European raw materials. (ERMA). They go through the diversification of supply with countries less threatening than China or Russia, production in Europe when possible, the acquisition of stakes in mines in third countries and the recycling of materials in Europe.

Finally, the rise to power of industries with an autonomous future in Europe will need to be better supported and protected, noted the participants in the forum. By a carbon tax at the borders that France intends to increase during the semester which opens and by a series of measures of reciprocity or retaliation aimed at putting Europe on an equal footing with its two major competitors. Because what is the point of investing tens of billions in sectors of the future if it is to feed them, without resistance to unscrupulous foreign powers.