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‘Clean tech has to be made in Europe,’ EU Commission President delivers State of the Union address

In yesterday’s (13 September) State of the Union address, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen recalled the EU’s accomplished milestones in the past four years, with a particular emphasis on the European Green Deal and member states’ collective efforts towards climate neutrality.

With European Parliament elections set to take place in less than a year, President von der Leyen’s emphasis on tackling climate change comes after the continent’s hottest summer to date, with Greece and Spain struck by wildfires and devastating floods.

For Ms von der Leyen, the Green Deal’s strategy is already being delivered in the short term. “Europe’s industry is showing every day that it is ready to power this transition,” she said. “Proving that modernisation and decarbonisation can go hand in hand. In the last five years, the number of clean steel factories in the EU has grown from zero to 38. We are now attracting more investment in clean hydrogen than the US and China combined. […] The European Green Deal provides the necessary frame, incentives and investment – but it is the people, the inventors and the engineers who develop the solutions.”

Tackling the “flood” of Chinese EVs

Speaking on competition and level playing field, Ms von der Leyen highlighted the intertwined geopolitical challenges facing the European electric vehicle (EV) industry. “But global markets are now flooded with cheaper Chinese electric cars,” she pointed out. “And their price is kept artificially low by huge state subsidies. This is distorting our market.”

“So I can announce today that the Commission is launching an anti-subsidy investigation into electric vehicles coming from China.”

Next phase of the EU Green Deal

In terms of the next steps for supporting the European industry in the green transition, the EU Commission President announced that starting this month, a series of Clean Transition Dialogues with industry will be held to support every sector in building its business model for decarbonisation.

“Our wind industry, for instance, is a European success story,” she said. “But it is currently facing a unique mix of challenges. This is why we will put forward a European Wind Power package – working closely with industry and member states. We will fast-track permitting even more. We will improve the auction systems across the EU. We will focus on skills, access to finance and stable supply chains.”

EU countries from Central and Eastern Europe have the potential for a six-fold increase in wind and solar capacity from the current 35 gigawatts (GW) to 196 GW by 2030, according to a climate think tank Ember. The report also said that those countries are likely to deploy just half of their 2030 potential if there are no improvements to renewables policies.

But this is broader than one sector, she continued: “From wind to steel, from batteries to electric vehicles, our ambition is crystal clear: the future of our clean tech industry has to be made in Europe.”

Voicing industry concerns

On Monday, European solar industry association SolarPower Europe wrote an open letter warning the EU Commission about the threat of Chinese imports on the bloc’s “open strategic autonomy.” On this point, Ms von der Leyen said: “We have not forgotten how China’s unfair trade practices affected our solar industry. Many young businesses were pushed out by heavily subsidised Chinese competitors.”

Responding to the State Union speech, SolarPower Europe made the following statement: “It was good to hear President von der Leyen’s commitment to critical industry made in Europe, and that Europe will do whatever it takes to keep its competitive edge. This promise must translate into action. Solar project developers face inflation-driven headwinds. Europe’s solar manufacturers are at risk of bankruptcy.”

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