EU aspires to revive automotive industry but has limited means

After the 5 October appeal by seven member states for greater action in support of industry, the Competitiveness Council of 10 December will debate the action plan on updating Europe’s industrial policy, with particular emphasis on the automotive sector.

The 27 plan to adopt conclusions on the strategy for strengthening Europe’s industrial competitiveness. Based on the European Commission’s communication of 10 October – COM(2012)582 – they will continue the discussion began at the previous ministerial meeting. As the first materialisation of the new industrial policy, the automotive sector will be the focus of particular attention. The ministers will discuss the Commission’s action plan of 8 November (CARS 2020), which states that "the status quo for the European automotive industry cannot be maintained". Current production capacities must be adapted, a new business model developed, new clusters formed and new training considered, according to the analysis presented in the report. The problem with these ambitious objectives is that the EU cannot do much in this area. As explained by Commissioner Antonio Tajani (enterprise and industry), the Commission cannot impose plant shutdowns and state aid is prohibited. Its action will therefore be limited to coordination and incentives for the purchase of clean vehicles. It will be up to member states to develop solutions, the commissioner said at a 6 December press conference. The Commission takes the political decision to encourage them to do so, he added, but it is only by coordinating actions between countries and enterprises that the EU will be able to optimise production. "The problem lies in how to coordinate," said the commissioner, who assures that there is no resistance among automotive manufacturers. ACEA, their European representative, had nevertheless warned the Commission: individual automotive manufacturers are responsible for restructuring their operations in Europe "as they see necessary". "Starting to hold discussions together is already a first step," said Tajani. He added that he wants to prevent a war between European companies. BusinessEurope warns the Cyprus Presidency that "industrial policy does not require strong political will at European level". Acknowledging implicitly the disagreements with the trade commissioner ("there are debates in the college"), Tajani insisted on the need for a "non-naïve" trade policy. The free trade agreement with Japan – negotiation of which is expected to begin soon, after the Council’s adoption of a negotiating brief, on 29 November – will be analysed before signature in the light of the advantages for each industrial sector. Source: Europolitics


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