Don’t inject fresh money into the European Union — just reform national policies, says Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
That’s the best way to prevent EU industry from getting wiped out by U.S. companies under Washington’s major new green subsidies scheme, Rutte told a group of journalists at the office of the Dutch embassy to the EU in Brussels on Tuesday.
“There’s so much money at this moment in the system,” Rutte said shortly after meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. He also argued for deeper reforms, stressing how some European countries spend so much on their pension systems — “all money you cannot spend on innovation and green tech.”
Rutte is often viewed as the key leader of the so-called “frugal” group of European countries, comprised of like-minded fiscally conservative nations. The group, which also includes Denmark and Sweden, has been reluctant to increase national contributions to EU coffers — at least until the coronavirus pandemic forced them to partly adjust that line.
The discussion among EU decision-makers on how to preserve the bloc’s industrial base is taking place ahead of a meeting of EU leaders next month as the U.S. moves to roll out a $369 billion industrial subsidy scheme to support green industries under the so-called Inflation Reduction Act.
The U.S. legislation has stoked fears about consequences for European industry and sparked calls to revisit rules on state aid. Another concern is that such subsidies put the EU’s single market at risk by conferring an outsized advantage to countries with larger fiscal capacity, such as Germany, which have more space to financially maneuver.
Rutte, who was recently in Washington to visit U.S. President Joe Biden, said: “There are a number of consequences to this Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — but unintended.” The IRA “forces us to think about how we organize ourselves” to remain competitive, he added.
On the one hand, he sees U.S. attempts to meet climate targets as a positive development. On the other hand, he pointed to risks to having a level playing field, like with electric mobility. “Companies might shift investments from the EU to the U.S.,” he said, parroting a much-repeated fear.
But EU subsidies should remain unaltered, Rutte argued. Regarding calls to adapt to the IRA by changing EU aid rules, he conceded: “I can accept some changes as long as they are limited.”
Rutte was clear on his belief that no fresh EU money should be put on the table. “I mean, not grants, but even not loans,” he said. “There’s so much still around” — for example loans in the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the centerpiece of the EU’s pandemic recovery plan.
A draft of the text that leaders would seek to agree on at their upcoming European Council meeting hints at opening up new sources of EU funding. The draft, seen by POLITICO, makes calls “to take work forward building notably on the success of the SURE programme,” referring to the EU’s loans-based program to support employment floated by Rome and others.
Rutte stressed that he would not like to see this proposal in the text, which will be discussed by EU ambassadors on Wednesday.
On the question of whether he’d be in favor of a new SURE program, “My answer would be that we have serious doubts,” he said.
Barbara Moens contributed reporting.