Good morning everybody, and welcome to this very important seminar on the future of our industry. The theme is the future of the competitiveness of our industry and the future of competitiveness of Europe, as that is the cornerstone of the future of job creation and the future of well-being in Europe.
Europe has always been and will always been a manufacturing continent. But at the same time, and at this specific moment, there are lots of external and lots of internal challenges that we have to address both here in Europe and in our relationships with third countries.
Competitiveness of energy-intensive industry is a very diverse issue. There is not one silver bullet or medicine to swallow to keep our position as a continent of competitive industry in good shape. So that’s why today’s programme is quite wide-ranging. There are different angles from innovation to other areas. Trade, of course, plays an important role.
There is lots of work for us as policy-makers to undertake with non-EU countries in order to make sure that world trade moves towards a fairer direction. Everybody knows that there is over-production in certain products at the moment, and it puts our traders in an impossible position. So that’s why we have to work on this very intensively. But at the same time, we have to recognise our internal shortcomings. Comparing energy prices between different countries, there are huge differences and only local and national decision makers can make a difference.
If you look at our internal market, it’s good in many ways but there are still gaps, and that is the reason why the Juncker Commission has put such an emphasis on deepening and widening the internal market. That is the reason why we are building the Digital Single Market, the Energy Union, the Capital Markets Union, we will boost the Circular Economy, and the other concrete measures mentioned in the Single Market Strategy tries to address competitiveness shortages we are facing today in Europe. I want to thank everybody very much for participating at this conference today, as it’s very important for us at the Commission to get your feedback on how we can solve these problems together.
As I said, energy-intensive industries are facing difficult times and the Commission is willing to use all existing instruments to support them. Low demand, energy costs and heavy reliance on imported raw materials represent critical conditions that negatively affect the EU industry. We have seen – and we still see – how this situation impacts on the life of real people: several plants have recently been shut across Europe. At the same time, some sectors suffer from a global production over-capacity which pushes down prices and might encourage distortive behaviour from competing regions.
We need to think collectively about what can be done to ensure sustainable, modern and innovative energy-intensive industries. We need to approach these issues which are wide-ranging with an open mind: some levers are national (like the tax regimes on energy prices), others are European. National and European actions need to go hand in hand. The Commission is committed to playing its role to help our industry to face the challenges of this difficult time.
We understand the key challenges and priorities for the industry: modernisation in particular digitisation, energy efficiency and integration into global value chains. To address them we need action across policy areas. The Commission is strongly committed to improving the overall competitiveness of Europe’s industrial base. We are mainstreaming the industrial competitiveness objective into other EU policies. In my opening address, I would like to address two particular issues where Europe is playing a positive role for energy-intensive industries: first trade and secondly the Investment Plan.
As regards trade, the Commission intends to continue to make full use of existing Trade Defence Instruments against unfair trade practices, ensuring a global level playing field. Looking at highly-intensive energy industries and in particular steel, the Commission has put in place 35 anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures as well as a number of new investigations ongoing. Three new investigations were just launched in the last few days.
Every new complaint will be examined thoroughly. The Commission is ready to open anti-dumping cases and impose measures against unfair imports of steel when the conditions are met. We rely on the industry to provide evidence that unfair trade practices by exporters are causing injury to the European producers. More fundamentally, the Commission has made a proposal for the modernisation of Trade Defence Instruments. We aim to streamline the operation of these instruments, increase transparency and predictability, as well as allow better effectiveness and enforcement.
At the same time, it is important to address the root causes of the challenges, including overcapacity. This is a prominent cause to the current crisis in the steel sector. However, the Commission is well aware that there are overcapacities elsewhere than steel, in sectors such as: paper, glass, ceramics, aluminium etc. We will intensify contacts at multilateral and bilateral level to address the issues with our main partners. The upcoming OECD High-Level Symposium on steel which will take place in Brussels on 18 and 19 April 2016 presents such an opportunity. In addition we have bilateral dialogues with countries such as China, Russia, Turkey and India.
The Investment Plan for Europe is another important tool. The Plan gives an opportunity to boost the European economy and the uptake of new technologies by the industry by mobilising EUR 315 billion of investment. This will be done by providing additional risk financing, technical support and, at the same time, by removing obstacles to investment, in other words by creating abetter and deeper internal market. The European Investment Bank has already approved 45 projects; one of the first projects granted by the EIB addresses the modernisation of a steel plant in Italy. Others in the pipeline look at the modernisation of steel processes.
We encourage the industry to prepare more innovative projects with the help of our technical assistance capabilities and fully benefit from the new investment opportunities offered by the Investment Plan. We should also remember that the EFSI financing does not serve only big industrial players. It is also possible to establish under EFSI so-called ‘investment platforms’ to promote a group of similar projects like the renovation of plants or energy efficiency programmes. These platforms can bring together co-investors from one or more Member States for a number of smaller investment projects to achieve the necessary scale.
And finally, we invite industry to make use of the European Investment Project Portal that will be available during the first half of the year to attract potential private investors who are looking for good investment projects. Interested companies can already submit their project to the Commission to be part of the Portal as of its launch.
All existing funding schemes present opportunities for the high-intensive industries; EFSI, COSME, Horizon 2020 and the European Structural and Investment Funds. We need to develop an investment pipeline from R&D to production, taking into account the different objectives of the funding programmes. The private sector recurrently highlights the need to remove bottlenecks to investment. This means improving the investment climate – both in the Single Market and at the national level. The third pillar of the Investment Plan aims to achieve this by providing greater regulatory predictability and by removing barriers to investment.
In Europe, we have important assets at our disposal:
- We have enormous creativity and diversity.
- We have a high educational base.
- And we have entrepreneurs.
We count on Europe’s business community to make the most of these assets. We in the European Commission are committed to helping provide the necessary framework conditions for doing so.
Thank you very much.
Compliments of the European Commission