EU approves €2.9 billion in state aid for battery project attracting €9 billion
The Commission has approved, state aid of up to €2.9 billion in funding for an ‘Important Project of Common European Interest’ (IPCEI) to support research and innovation in the battery value chain. The twelve EU countries involved will provide public funding expected to unlock an additional €9 billion in private investments.
The project, called “European Battery Innovation” was jointly prepared and notified by Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.
€2,9bn public money crowding in €9bn for massive innovation in battery value chain - make it more sustainable. Risks can be too big for one MS/one company to take alone. Good that European governments come together to support! Benefits for the many when new knowledge is shared.
— Margrethe Vestager (@vestager) January 26, 2021
Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “For those massive innovation challenges for the European economy, the risks can be too big for just one member state or one company to take alone. Today's project is an example of how competition policy works hand in hand with innovation and competitiveness. With significant support also comes responsibility: the public has to benefit from its investment, which is why companies receiving aid have to generate positive spillover effects across the EU.”
When Vestager was asked if companies from outside the EU, such as Tesla, could benefit from this funding she said that this was possible and showed that the EU was committed to open strategic autonomy and welcomes non-EU firms when they have the right projects.
The Vice-President for Foresight, Maroš Šefčovič, said: “The Commission has given its green light to a second important project of the common European interest in the field of batteries. Technology is vital for our transition to climate neutrality. The figures show what an enormous undertaking this is. It involves twelve member states from North, South, East and West, injecting up to €2.9 billion euros in state aid in support of 46 projects designed by 42 companies, which in turn will generate three times as much private investment. "
"You miss 💯% of the shots you don't take." @WayneGretzky, turning 60 today, famously said.
The success of EU #battery sector🔋 serves as a tangible testimony to that. It's defying the negative trends in our economies & we're on track towards attaining open strategic autonomy. pic.twitter.com/QBQVnTBVIa
— Maroš Šefčovič🇪🇺 (@MarosSefcovic) January 26, 2021
The project will cover the entire battery value chain: extraction of raw materials, design and manufacturing of battery cells, recycling and disposal. It is expected to contribute to the development of a whole set of new technological breakthroughs, including different cell chemistries and novel production processes, and other innovations in the battery value chain, in addition to what will be achieved thanks to the first battery IPCEI.
EU urges AstraZeneca to speed up vaccine deliveries amid 'supply shock'
In a sign of the EU’s frustration - after Pfizer also announced supply delays earlier in January - a senior EU official told Reuters the bloc would in the coming days require pharmaceutical companies to register COVID-19 vaccine exports.
AstraZeneca, which developed its shot with Oxford University, told the EU on Friday it could not meet agreed supply targets up to the end of March, with an EU official involved in the talks telling Reuters that meant a 60% cut to 31 million doses.
“We expect the company to find solutions and to exploit all possible flexibilities to deliver swiftly,” an EU Commission spokesman said, adding the head of the EU executive Ursula von der Leyen had a call earlier on Monday with AstraZeneca’s chief Pascal Soriot to remind him of the firm’s commitments.
A spokesman for AstraZeneca said Soriot told von der Leyen the company was doing everything it could to bring its vaccine to millions of Europeans as soon as possible.
News emerged on Monday that the company faces wider supply problems.
Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters AstraZeneca had advised the country it had experienced “a significant supply shock”, which would cut supplies in March below what was agreed. He did not provide figures.
Thailand’s Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said AstraZeneca would be supplying 150,000 doses instead of the 200,000 planned, and far less than the 1 million shots the country had initially requested.
AstraZeneca declined to comment on global supply issues.
The senior EU official said the bloc had a contractual right to check the company’s books to assess production and deliveries, a move that could imply the EU fears doses being diverted from Europe to other buyers outside the bloc.
AstraZeneca has received an upfront payment of 336 million euros ($409 million) from the EU, another official told Reuters when the 27-nation bloc sealed a supply deal with the company in August for at least 300 million doses - the first signed by the EU to secure COVID-19 shots..
Under advance purchase deals sealed during the pandemic, the EU makes down-payments to companies to secure doses, with the money expected to be mostly used to expand production capacity.
“Initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain,” AstraZeneca said on Friday.
The site is a viral vectors factory in Belgium run by the drugmaker’s partner Novasep.
Viral vectors are produced in genetically modified living cells that have to be nurtured in bioreactors. The complex procedure requires fine-tuning of various inputs and variables to arrive at consistently high yields.
“The flimsy justification that there are difficulties in the EU supply chain but not elsewhere does not hold water, as it is of course no problem to get the vaccine from the UK to the continent,” said EU lawmaker Peter Liese, who is from the same party as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The EU called a meeting with AstraZeneca after Friday’s (22 January) announcement to seek further clarification. The meeting started at 1230 CET on Monday.
The EU official involved in the talks with AstraZeneca said expectations were not high for the meeting, in which the company will be asked to better explain the delays.
Earlier in January, Pfizer, which is currently the largest supplier of COVID-19 vaccines to the EU, announced delays of nearly a month to its shipments, but hours later revised this to say the delays would last only a week.
EU contracts with vaccine makers are confidential, but the EU official involved in the talks did not rule out penalties for AstraZeneca, given the large revision to its commitments. However, the source did not elaborate on what could trigger the penalties. “We are not there yet,” the official added.
“AstraZeneca has been contractually obligated to produce since as early as October and they are apparently delivering to other parts of the world, including the UK without delay,” Liese said.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is expected to be approved for use in the EU on Jan. 29, with first deliveries expected from 15 February.
($1 = €0.8214)
Brexit butchers EU trade for Scottish beef producers
The 32-year-old had been on the verge of expanding the family business, using his social media marketing skills to promote the rare beef that has been reared on farms across the Scottish lowlands and borders for centuries.
Instead his Macduff business is now one of thousands across Britain that lack the financial firepower to throw at the myriad health checks, customs declarations and higher logistics costs that are required to export goods into the European Union.
“With these customers it takes years to build the relationship and get them on board, and it can take seconds to lose,” said Duff, whose clients include an award-winning butcher in Germany and a Michelin-starred restaurant in Belgium.
“Luckily January is a quiet month. Come February, March, if the situation is still the same then it could be problematic,” he told Reuters.
Far from the dire warnings of clogged ports and tailbacks that preceded the departure, Brexit so far has seen factories and fishermen unable to complete paperwork and get the goods off their yard. Many still do not know which forms need completing. Different couriers give different answers.
The government has said it is helping businesses deal with the “teething problems”. It has urged exporters to make sure their paperwork is in order and said it will give 23 million pounds ($31 million) to fishermen who have lost sales due to delivery delays.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson argued that Britain would be free to trade globally once it had cast off the shackles of the EU. But his pursuit of a relationship that enables Britain to set its own rules means those firms trading with Europe face a full customs border.
Hardest-hit are the small companies that built up during Britain’s 47-year membership of the world’s biggest trading bloc to sell often low-priced product that was couriered at speed across the continent.
Almost half of 2018’s 76 billion pounds in exports to the EU from small and medium sized enterprises came from firms employing fewer than 9 people.
Where a huge meat or fish producer can fill one truck with one product and complete one set of customs paperwork, Duff sources top quality cattle from a selection of farms.
His goods - bone-in pieces from Shorthorn and Luing breeds - are sent on a truck carrying products from other suppliers, a process known as groupage.
Now a vet-approved health certificate is required for each firm’s goods, meaning potentially up to 30 per truck. One fish exporter said he needed over 400 pages of export documentation for one EU-bound lorry. One error can block delivery.
Duff’s transport company have said they are struggling as it is to help big customers, so groupage must wait.
He is also worried about prices, knowing that he cannot absorb all the costs of customs declarations, longer logistics times and the health certificates.
Logistics bosses believe Brexit could force a shake-out in trade. Truck volumes between Britain and the EU were on average down 29% in the first 20 days of the year, according to data firm Sixfold. Logistics groups say some trucks are returning empty to Europe to avoid export paperwork. Prices are rising.
One of those caught up in the bureaucracy is Sarah Braithwaite, who worked 16-hour days to build a horse feed firm that until 1 January was selling into 20 European countries.
This month her stock has failed to get to Europe or been rejected by customers over unexpected customs bills and taxes. Her Forage Plus has halted European orders - making up to 30% of her sales - and is refunding £40,000 to customers.
Braithwaite says her business is too small to build a presence in Europe to overcome the new barriers. “The trade that we’ve got now wouldn’t support the cost of setting all that up,” she said.
Both she and Duff are hopeful that exports can resume once the new system has bedded in but nerves are frayed. In desperation Braithwaite called the UK government for help.
The message she got back: ring the French embassy.
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