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Paris and Berlin kick-start the European battery cell

The EU is keen on electric cars but has not capacity to build batteries-yet

A pan-European industrial project may remind citizens how concrete Europe can be when its forces are united.

A couple of weeks after the European Commission blocked Alstom and Siemens mega-merger, Bruno Le Maire, the French Economy Minister, keeps criticizing Brussels for what he considers a lost opportunity.

But he has also embraced a more constructive stance with his German counterpart, Peter Altmaier. The two Ministers have just signed in Berlin a “Manifesto for a European industrial policy fit for the 21st century”.

The text reflects their worries that the European industry is falling behind global competition. As part of their plan to develop an ambitious industrial strategy, they suggest cooperation has to be enhanced in three key areas: battery cell production, disruptive innovation and artificial intelligence.

The development of a battery cell industry is by far the most tangible project. Germany has already said that it will invest a billion euros. France is now ready to put 700 millions euros on the table.

China controls 90 % of lithium-ion batteries manufacturing capacities

The idea of an EU battery alliance has been around for a long time. There will always be skeptics to say that it is too late or not enough, as Asian companies – China ahead – already control 90 % of global lithium-ion manufacturing capacity.

Although the demand for electric vehicles is set to be exponential, no European manufacturer has so far taken the risk to set up a battery-cell factory on the continent : huge investments are required and margins are expected to be low. 

Other critics of the German-French industrial manifesto might blame Berlin and Paris for going it alone, once more. They already looked with contempt the new Franco-German cooperation and integration Treaty signed a few weeks ago in Aachen. 

No matter what the critics might be, Germany and France are moving forward. It is the best thing we can expect from two of the founding members of the EU, at a time when scapegoating Europe has become a popular sport in too many member countries. Altmaier and Le Maire have also said that the project would be opened to other EU countries.

Restoring EU pride

There is nothing more tangible that a pan-European industrial project to remind citizens how concrete Europe can be when its forces are united. It can even become a source of pride. 

Airbus’ success is a powerful illustration of where a common vision can lead. The industrial consortium was born in the 1970’s from the joint will of the France, Germany, Spain and Great-Britain. For a long time, it has been plagued by internal and political rivalries. But as soon as partnering countries decided that the tensions had to be overcome, Airbus has gained market shares. It is now competing for leadership with the American super champion Boeing.

Angélique Mounier-Kuhn

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