BRATISLAVA – The European Union has attracted massive investment along the battery value chain, boosting its energy and raw materials independence, as the EU establishes its new resilience commitment, which includes climate change but also hybrid and cybersecurity threats, European Commission Vice-President for Interinstitutional relations and Foresight Maros Sefcovic told New Europe on June 17 in an exclusive interview, following the GLOBSEC 2021 forum in Bratislava.
Asked if the EU is winning the battery battle with China, he said the EU Battery Alliance has become a prominent part of events like GLOBSEC. “What is very important to say and I think today’s conference really confirmed that we have incredible dynamics in the battery sector in Europe. It was confirmed to me that it is not only Northwest Europe but it was also Central, Eastern and, as my last visit to Spain and Portugal confirmed, Southern Europe is very much on board,” Sefcovic told New Europe from Vienna airport, moments before boarding his flight back to Brussels, shortly after the GLOBSEC forum ended.
He reminded that in 2019 and 2020, the EU had more than €60 billion of investment in battery sector which is more than three times of the level of investments in Chinese battery sector. “This is very, very promising. And we are really progressing parts of the value chain from the extraction through material production, software development down to the recycling. Of course, raw materials is a key element, a key question and, as you know, we are prospecting possibilities for lithium production from Europe but we are also in very intensive talks with Serbia, with Ukraine. We had good contacts with Australian companies so we’re doing our work when this big wrap up of battery production will come – I’m talking 2023 – I think we will be ready. I’m sure it will be a big part of the raw materials we will need to import but I hope we will do the same as we did with the supply of gas: we have diversified sources. So, we will be more potent in our action because we have different suppliers from different parts of the world and building the capacities within Europe,” the Commission Vice President explained.
Turning to security of energy sources, Sefcovic noted that the Commission is preparing the “Fit for 55” package which he hopes the EU would be able to adopt in the middle of July. “It’s very clear we want to be climate neutral by 2050. That means that we will be reducing the use of fossil fuels dramatically. By 2030, 70 percent of our electricity will be coming from renewables or clean sources and we see that the imports of fossil fuels will go lower and therefore, of course, we will be feeling more secure because the renewable source of energy is actually our indigenous source,” he said. “It’s our wind, it’s our sun,” he continued smiling, “it will be our energy sourcing in the batteries or hydrogen, electrolysers. So, that’s the plan, that’s the strategy and we are doing very well in that respect because our energy mix is I think the greenest in the world if we compare how we produce electricity in Europe compared with other major economies and, of course, if it comes to the raw materials we are following the same approach.”
He reminded that the EU put 30 key raw materials in its list of Critical Raw Materials 2020, including lithium. “We’re working really line by line, raw material by raw material, looking what we can get from Europe, what we can replace in technologies and what we can also do from the rest of the world. But we want to make sure that everything we do is done in full compliance with the highest environmental standards,” Sefcovic said. “We are developing also a new industry based on urban mining and recycling which was a quite big topic of the discussions I had today in Bratislava. There are a lot of very progressive companies who want to see big opportunities there,” the Commission Vice President said.
He reminded that the role of public institutions like the European Commission is to create a proper regulatory framework to clearly show the strategic drive and what would be the public support in tackling the challenges of new technologies as Europe is currently going through an in-depth economic transformation. “You have to rely on private initiative, on private sector and this is why I believe the work of European Battery Alliance is progressing very well because we have a clear understanding of the role. There is very strong interaction between public institutions – on European and national level – the private sector but also financial institutions and, now I think you would agree with me, that we see enormous interest from private investors to invest in green bonds as you have seen on Tuesday (June 15), in green technologies and, therefore, I think this articulation between private and public is very important and works out pretty well,” Sefcovic said.
Tasked by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen of using foresight in EU, Sefcovic said another danger Europe is facing is hybrid and cyberthreats. Asked, how can the EU protect itself from cyberattacks, Sefcovic told New Europe there are several avenues which the bloc has to undertake. “If it comes to this, there are several things. First and foremost, of course, it’s important to be conscious of the threats. We established the Technology Council – EU and US – and one of the areas would be cyber security and IT technologies,” he said. Von der Leyen and US President Joe Biden launched the EU-US Trade and Technology Council (TTC) at the US-EU Summit in Brussels on June 15.
“Then, I think we have to be very strong in 5G where we have all the preconditions because Ericsson and Nokia are European companies and are global leaders in this respect. And then all I would say, the measures which presented and have been adopting, the proposals for cybersecurity, for artificial intelligence use and this is for the long haul because you would need to have regulatory framework, also you need software and most importantly working in diplomatic circles, the human factor is very important, that the people have to be very conscious how they use the information, what kind of communication channel they use and how careful they are in the hardware they have in their disposal,” Sefcovic said.
Finally, he said, screening the FDI would help address security issues, tackling hybrid and cybersecurity threats, China or Russia. “Foreign direct investment screening exercise would be also about this,” Sefcovic said, adding, “As you know, every investment over 500 million has to pass the test if it fits with all these expectations of conditionalities we have in Europe and I think it would give us overview of how to cope with threats that are very serious more efficiently”.