The blueprint for a net-zero industry lacks vision on how to ensure Europe's industry stays competitive and attracts investment.

The EESC believes that the Green Deal Industrial Plan (GDIP) and the Net-Zero Industry Act (NZIA) are good overall, but they should be more specific as to what actions will be taken to improve locational factors, boost the competitiveness of Europe's economies and set the EU apart from its systemic rivals.

"We are very critical of the fact that it has taken something like the Inflation Reduction Act in the US to spur the EU into action," says Sandra Parthie, rapporteur of the EESC opinion on the GDIP and the NZIA. "We would have liked this to come earlier. We would have liked the EU to react more forcefully and with more conviction, to show our companies and societies that we really want Europe to remain relevant as an industrial location, with good jobs and good salaries for workers."

European industry has become less competitive than that of its main rivals in recent decades. Per capita GDP in the EU has dropped from around 70% of per capita GDP in the US in the 2000s to under 66%. US and EU shares of the world's gross investment declined from 29% to 20% and from 23% to 15% respectively between 1999 and 2020. 

To reverse this downward trend, the EESC recommends carrying out an audit to identify how the EU can control and improve its value chains and avoid excessive dependencies. It also suggests submitting all draft EU legislation to a competitiveness check.

One problem the EESC points to as demanding bolder action is red tape and processing time. Take public funding: decisions to grant projects financial support and access to funding take too long. The EESC argues that, if we want to prevent investors from taking their business elsewhere, we need measures to ensure timely and accessible funding for both operating costs and capital expenditure, covering all types of businesses, big and small. 

Permitting is another point where the GDIP is not up to scratch: it singles out a number of net-zero technologies which should get fast-track permitting and more financial support for projects, leaving other sectors to face more difficulties.

In the EESC's view, the GDIP and the NZIA focus too narrowly on promoting green technologies and picking "winners". Instead, they should encourage a diverse industry with a wide range of sectors.  
Europe is home to a lot of energy-intensive heavy and primary industries that need decarbonising and that are not included in the GDIP. 

Easing EU State aid rules is another potential trap, as it could widen the gap between richer Member States and poorer ones which do not have the fiscal space to invest in the green transition and support their champion industries and households. This is why there should be a serious debate on a European Sovereignty Fund to provide additional EU-level financing for the transition. 

European Commission figures show that there is significant job creation potential in net-zero technology, with 180 000 workers needed in fuel cell hydrogen manufacturing, 66 000 in photovoltaic solar manufacturing and 800 000 in battery production. 

The GDIP supports the development of green skills, but the EESC maintains that it should support the development of the whole range of skills needed in industry. It should also speed up and standardise work permits for qualified workers coming from outside the European Union. (dm)