Davos, von der Leyen: “The EU needs a sovereign wealth fund to grow”

Davos, von der Leyen: “The EU needs a sovereign wealth fund to grow”

For months, the issues of industrial policy and their brutal decisions in times of energy crisis remained in the dark, while in Italy there was talk of thresholds for cash or card payments. Now the country and all of Europe are at a crossroads: continue with the rules and politics of the world before the war in Ukraine and growing concerns about the climate, or envision new strategies where governments and companies are trying to accelerate new energies and digital technologies.

At the World Economic Forum, Ursula von der Leyen pointed out the second way, even if, as always in Europe, there is no lack of ambiguity and differences of opinion. For the first time since Davos, the President of the European Commission has proposed that the Union adopt an industrial strategy formalized in a legal act. Von der Leyen has called the Net Zero Industry Act the set of rules designed to help the European Union eliminate the impact of emissions from its economy. Compliance with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) introduced by the White House last August is undeniable and is the real reason Von der Leyen is urging action. In Germany and France in particular, as well as in Italy, there is growing concern that the US government’s promised subsidies of at least $400 billion (but possibly much more) for the production of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and energy technologies will or power grids are driving many European companies to the USA. Certainly the French company Safran is moving its next major project across the Atlantic, just to intercept federal aid, and Enel will also build the next advanced panel factory in the United States after the one in Catania.

But as always, in Europe it is easier to explain what you don’t want than your own goals and strategies. In the first part yesterday in Davos, Von der Leyen made it clear when she laid out her concerns about the US Inflation Reduction Act and attacked Beijing: It heavily subsidizes its industry and restricts European companies’ access to its market – he said – that is China Openly encouraging energy-intensive companies to marry there on the basis of low climate standards.

Instead, it will be more difficult for Brussels to propose a Net Zero Industry Act that is acceptable to both Italy and Germany. Berlin and Paris are demanding a relaxation of the state aid rules for the energy transition industry and faster approvals from Brussels. And that part will be there as efforts are made to simplify permits for new renewable energy plants. Yesterday, Davos von der Leyen was less explicit about the part of the new rules that affects countries like Italy, which have limited ability to pay state aid (and invest it effectively). With Emmanuel Macron, both the Commission President and France are proposing a European “sovereignty fund” for industrial policy: a kind of second recovery. Berlin is opposed to this project because it understands that it would be the first donor. Italy with Paris, but it seems to other capitals that Rome does not understand that it is under scrutiny: it is difficult to claim more European resources before proving that it knows how to use the recovery plan (Pnrr) good uses. So it’s no wonder that Von der Leyen remained vague in Davos yesterday: she reaffirmed the goal of a European fund, but in the medium term. For the rest, he only promised an assessment of needs.

Certainly, the gap between the United States and Europe is already evident in a number of signs: among them, the significant slowdown in the American Intel’s investment project in microchips in Italy, which would have been the largest in the history of the republic. In March, the plan for a five-billion-euro plant was clearly announced, to be defined by 2022. People close to Intel only said yesterday from Davos that the project is being continuously evaluated. But yesterday at the forum, the meeting between Education Minister Giuseppe Valditara and US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, who praised the European vocational training model, was positive. And in Brussels, Economy Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti, who had proposed Italy’s candidacy for the seat of the European anti-money laundering authority, spoke out against the mere relaxation of state aid rules.