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EU industry calls for green shift help to keep up with China, US

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The heads of major industrial companies want the European Union to cut energy costs and the regulatory burden of green rules to help the region stay competitive as the energy transition accelerates, Bloomberg reports. 

Over 70 business and industry leaders — including Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire chairman of chemicals giant Ineos Group, are urging the bloc to introduce a European Industrial Deal to boost competitiveness during the shift. Their key asks are to make energy cheaper, cut red tape and boost clean tech funding.

The group says Europe risks losing out to China and the US in the race to supply the technologies needed to roll out renewables and slash industrial emissions. The warning comes just months after the EU finalized laws covering sectors from energy to transport to help slash emissions 55% this decade. And now the bloc has touted an even more ambitious goal — to cut 90% of emissions by 2040.

At the same time, high energy costs and US and Chinese subsidies have raised fears over the future of European heavy industry. That’s being particularly felt in Germany, the continent’s economic powerhouse, amid warnings that its days as an industrial superpower are coming to an end. The EU as a whole is in an extended period of near-stagnation.

That means European industry urgently needs more help, according to the group of business leaders who are due to assemble alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo at BASF SE’s chemical plant in Antwerp on Tuesday.

“This enormous challenge comes just as both large companies and SMEs face the most severe economic downturn in a decade, demand is falling, production costs increase and investments move to other regions,” the planned Antwerp Declaration said. “Sites are being closed, production halted, people let go. Europe needs a business case, urgently.”

Navigating businesses through the green shift will be a key challenge for von der Leyen if she wins a second term as commission president. The EU has faced growing criticism over its approach to greening its economy, particularly from farmers. EU citizens will head to the polls in June, with right-wing parties who are broadly opposed to the green deal expected to make significant gains.

Chemical, steel and cement sectors are among the hardest to decarbonize and will have to rely on technologies like green hydrogen and carbon capture to reduce emissions in line with net-zero goals.

The gathering in Antwerp comes a day after French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said he’ll make proposals in early March with German Economy Minister Robert Habeck to reduce EU norms he says are holding back businesses and harming growth. France cut its GDP growth forecast for this year and announced €10 billion euros ($10.8 billion) of spending cuts.

Still, not everyone sees less red tape as the answer to the EU’s competitiveness problems. Such a tactic is often used to delay climate action, according to Sabine Frank, executive director of nonprofit Carbon Market Watch.

“The accusation of an overly great regulatory burden often amounts to a tired trope,” she said at a press briefing. “There’s always the danger that it is just used to get out of the decarbonization and innovation responsibility.”