Keynote address by President von der Leyen at the high-level ‘Future of Europe' business event

Dear Prime Minister De Croo,

Mr Thijs,

Ms Albers,

Mr Velghe,

Mr Quaghebeur,

Distinguished guests,

Thank you for giving me the honour of addressing you tonight. Belgium has a special place in my heart, I was born here. But Belgium also has a special place in Europe. It is a country of creatives and innovators. In fact, in preparation for tonight, I learnt how much Belgian inventors helped shape the modern world. Plastic, for example, and synthetic rubber, or the engine, asphalt, and the electric tram, or modern drugs and even the world wide web – all these miraculous inventions can be traced back, in some form, to Belgian ingenuity. Today, the next big innovation is taking shape in the North Sea, round about 45 kilometres off the Belgian coast. The world's first energy island. It will link Belgium to a network of offshore wind farms spanning the entire North Sea. Construction is set to begin next year, supported by European investment through NextGenerationEU. It is part of Belgium's plan to increase its offshore wind capacity to 6 gigawatts by 2030 and 8 gigawatts by 2040, enough to power all Belgian households.

The North Sea is rapidly becoming Europe's clean and affordable power station. Not only will it help us get rid of Russian fossil fuels. Home-grown renewables will also power the world's next industrial revolution – made right here in Belgium, and made in Europe. This is what I would like to speak about today. The next decades will see the greatest industrial transformation of our times. We in Europe have been front-runners for years with the European Green Deal. We cast our 2050 net-zero target into law. That provided predictability and transparency to business. We backed it up with the investment firepower of EUR 800 billion NextGenerationEU. And today clean tech is the fastest-growing investment sector in Europe – doubling its value in 2021 alone. But as we enter 2023, Europe's clean-tech industry faces a collision of old and new challenges. The most serious is Russia's war and higher energy costs. Not only is Putin waging a war against Ukrainian integrity and freedom but also against Europe's energy, economy and democracy. A year ago, Europe had a massive dependency on Russian fossil fuels, built over decades. This made us vulnerable to Russia's blackmail. We had to deal with the scenario of potential blackouts and power shortages. Prices of gas were skyrocketing. But today, we got rid of this dangerous dependency. We replaced over 80% of Russian pipeline gas in the first eight months of the war. And this would not have been possible without the LNG terminal in the port of Antwerp-Bruges. We saved 20% of energy consumption. We introduced a gas price cap and a global oil price cap. And most importantly, we doubled the additional deployment of renewables. We made it. Gas prices are today lower than they were at the beginning of the war.

However, the year ahead will still be challenging. Compared to the US, energy prices are still higher. The cost of doing business is rising because of inflation. And it will take a few more years before the large amounts of home-grown and cheap wind energy become an advantage for the Belgian economy. And at the same time, international competition is intensifying. A clean-tech race is in full swing. The largest economies in the world – from the US to India, from China to Japan – have all started to invest massively in green innovation. This can be good news for the planet. But it could also imperil our own clean transition if the playing field is not levelled. Prime Minister, dear Alexander, you have consistently and rightly so argued that European businesses feel the heat. We must get better at nurturing our own industry, necessary for the clean transition – from hydrogen to chemicals, and from biotech to nanotech. And it is to achieve this goal that I have announced a Green Deal Industrial Plan. It is our plan to secure Europe's place as the home of industrial innovation and clean tech. Our Green Deal Industrial Plan will cover four key pillars: the regulatory environment, financing, skills and trade.

The first pillar is about speed and access. We need to create a regulatory environment that allows us to scale up fast in sectors crucial to reaching net zero. For that, we will propose mid-March a Net-Zero Industry Act. Think of hydrogen, a technology where Belgium is set to be a world leader. It can be a game changer for Europe. But we need to urgently move our hydrogen economy from niche to scale. We have doubled our 2030 target to produce and import 20 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen in the EU, each year. It will identify clear goals for European clean tech by 2030. Because only what gets measured, gets done. That goes far beyond permitting. We want to create an overall conducive environment. Less red tape, more integrated.

The Net-Zero Industry Act will go hand in hand with our Critical Raw Materials Act. Access to raw materials is vital to our clean transition. But Europe is still too vulnerable. For rare earth metals, for instance, Europe is 98% dependent on one country – China. Part of the solution has to do with strategic investment here in Europe. We need to improve the refining, processing and recycling of raw materials inside our Union. But we also need to face the simple truth that Europe cannot become totally self-reliant for many raw materials. So we must work with our trade partners to de-risk our supply chains. A possible solution here is to build a Critical Raw Materials Club with like-minded partners – from the US to Ukraine – this is pillar one – speed and access.

The second pillar of our plan is to boost investment in our clean-tech industry. For years now, China's subsidies were twice as high as those in the EU, relative to GDP. And now China has made subsidising clean-tech innovation and manufacturing a key priority in its five-year plan. Even open economies are stepping up to support to their clean-tech industry. Look at the US with its Inflation Reduction Act.

Do not get me wrong: Our clean-tech sector is competitive – even in our relative high energy price environment. But the subsidies abroad are unlevelling the playing field. This is why we will propose to temporarily adapt our state aid rules: easier calculations, simpler procedures, accelerated approvals. This is like the Chips Act. Let us not forget, we have world-leading research and development, like IMEC here in Belgium. That is very attractive for investors. But we need more to create the necessary chips ecosystem in Europe. Thus, our European Chips Act mobilises billions of investment for development and mass production of next-generation chips. We need the same strategic focus on our industry necessary for reaching net zero. Take the chemicals industry. The port of Antwerp-Bruges is the largest cluster of the chemical industry in Europe, and the world's largest after Houston. Chemical products represent nearly 10% of EU exports. To reach net zero, we need our chemicals industry on board and competitive. And it is. Since 1990, Europe increased its chemical production by nearly 50%. But at the same time, greenhouse gas emission in that sector decreased by over 50%. This is clean innovation – made in Belgium – that we need to keep in Europe.

But we also know that state aid is only one side of the coin. To avoid the fragmentation of our Single Market, we must also step up EU funding. We are working on a bridging solution to provide immediate and targeted support where it is most needed. Our vehicle is REPowerEU. And for the longer term, we are working on a European Sovereignty Fund. This will provide a structural solution for upstream research, innovation, and strategic industrial projects key to reaching net zero.

The third pillar focuses on the skills. The best technology is only as good as the people who know how to use it. We must take advantage of the full potential. Our European unemployment rate is at 6%. That is really good. But youth unemployment is at 14%. What a waste of talent. Female participation in the labour force is at 69% while male participation is at 80%. Lots of untapped potential. This is also true for the older workers. The younger workers may run faster, but the older know the shortcuts. There is a lot of professional knowledge out there. If we now invest massively in clean growth, all Member States must pay more attention to the topic of upskilling. That is why I welcome that Belgium is investing massively in its people, with the support of NextGenerationEU. For example, you are upgrading digital education in Flemish schools. And you are building a new Biotech Campus in Charleroi, to offer vocational training in a cutting-edge sector. That is what we need. Highly skilled workers are the key to our global competitiveness. That is why we made this a priority for our European Year of Skills.

Finally, the fourth pillar of the Green Deal Industrial plan is to facilitate open and fair trade for the benefit of all to create new economies of scale, common standards, and more resilient supply chains. Our answer is not protectionism but a more ambitious trade agenda.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All across the globe, the label ‘made in Europe' represents quality. And Europe's industrial leaders, many of whom are based in Belgium, can be proud of this. But ‘made in Europe' means so much more. It means that a given product comes from a place where we protect the environment and where workers earn a decent wage. That it comes from a continent where cutting-edge research is done and where students can attend university, independent of their parents' income. ‘Made in Europe', this is also a statement about who we are: a diverse continent full of creativity, a continent where entrepreneurs can thrive and no one is left behind. And this increasingly plays a fundamental role when companies decide where to do business. Because there are many interesting places in the world where you can earn good money. But when it comes to social security if you are old or sick or in need, when it comes to attracting the right people with the right skills, when it comes to accessing one single, prosperous market of 450 million consumers, there is no better place than Europe.

Long live Europe.

Thank you.

Zařazenočt 26.01.2023 20:01:00
ZdrojEvropská komise

Související témata

Bank of england
Zobrazit sloupec 

Ochrana dat

Používání cookies

Copyright © 2000 - 2023, spol. s r.o., AliaWeb, spol. s r.o. V