“Strategic autonomy” has finally become a guideline of EU politics. It is certainly late in coming with but at a decisive moment. Commissioner Thierry Breton has played a key role in achieving it and, in parallel, industry will also play a key role in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
For example, since 1990, industrial emissions in France have dropped by almost 50%. French industry has achieved this through its efforts to modernize, improve energy efficiency and enhance production processes…but also because of deindustrialisation.
Yet, our footprint continues to grow. This is due to the increase in imports of more carbon-intensive products from countries that have not implemented a climate policy as demanding as ours.
This situation is both harmful for the economy and employment in France, but also harmful for the climate since imported products cause more CO2 emissions than the production of these same products in France.
This example shows that strengthening strategic autonomy and decarbonising industrial processes, often discussed separately, are in fact two sides of the same coin.
Indeed, decarbonisation of industry is a pillar of our strategic autonomy and, at the same time, strategic autonomy includes inherently the levers for the decarbonisation of industry.
Decarbonisation of industry is a pillar of our strategic autonomy
We believe that it is through the decarbonisation of industrial processes, together with energy efficiency measures in i.a. buildings and modes of transport, that we will succeed in reducing our overall carbon emissions. People are not ready for degrowth, to reduce their consumption of goods. The need for manufactured goods will continue to increase as the population grows and the quality of life improves. So our objective is to understand how, with increasing demand, we can produce more carbon-free products.
The fight against carbon emissions is not limited to our territory, but is global. So the issue is not who produces carbon, but rather how much carbon is produced globally.
In the end, it is the question of the carbon footprint of products that counts, and consequently the decarbonisation of industrial manufacturing processes. Producing in the EU, and even more in France, means producing according to some of the highest environmental standards in the world, and with an energy mix that is much less carbon intensive than elsewhere.
In France, nuclear power has largely contributed to decarbonisation efforts. This energy source has also entered the taxonomy. At a time of international crisis, it is once again a potential source of strategic autonomy. France has made a strategic choice that is once more proving its effectiveness.
Thus, consolidating the EU’s industrial base is essential to all efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. In other words, we need a strong industry and strategic autonomy to meet the challenge of the transition to a low-carbon world. In addition, it avoids the CO2 emissions generated by the international transport of imported goods.
Strategic autonomy inherently includes the levers for decarbonising industry
Strengthening our strategic autonomy literally means reducing our dependences in global value chains. This means reducing our dependence on raw materials and strategic metals for the energy transition, but also on technologically advanced products, as well as, in the specific case of France, reducing our trade balance gap. However, industry allows us to win the battle for technological and climate leadership: by producing locally, we master the processes of key technologies, while reducing our carbon footprint.
These combined efforts should also allow Europe to inspire standards at the global level. The response to the climate crisis will be global, or it will not be. By proposing environmental and decarbonised standards at the global level that are based on European industrial processes, European products will become the reference.
Let’s not forget either that industry is a vector of social and territorial cohesion, because it is industry that determines the productivity gains that are the primary cause of prosperity (it ensures 50% in France for example).
Ensuring growth is one of the objectives of strategic autonomy, and could facilitate the social acceptability of the energy transition : manufacturing in Europe has indeed a cost as low-carbon products are more expensive to manufacture.
Manufacturing industry, keystone of decarbonisation & strategic autonomy
In conclusion, decarbonisation of industry and strategic autonomy are key tools for the future and growth of the European Union. And manufacturing is the keystone of this equation.
Strategic autonomy must, for example, serve the fight against carbon leakage. But we must match our political ambitions of Green Deal & strategic autonomy with industrial competitiveness, otherwise decarbonisation will be synonym of deindustrialization and all the efforts to strengthen our strategic autonomy will be in vain.
This is why we are convinced that reinforcing strategic autonomy must involve achievable, fact-based decarbonisation efforts. This should feed the current discussions around the Green Deal legislative proposals, as well as the European taxonomy. The industry is concerned of some orientations in the European Parliament and the Council not going in that direction.
As a matter of facts: the competitiveness of decarbonising EU industry must then become the compass for policy choices on energy transition, as much as it is for the same choices on strategic autonomy.