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I would like to thank Peter Altmaier for inviting me to be with you today, and congratulate the German Presidency for making this launch event happen in these very difficult times.
The coronavirus continues to deeply affect our lives and has plunged our economies into a recession. But it’s also shown us at our best. We have found strength by supporting each other, by recognising the value of cooperation.
Very often, the darkest hour is before the dawn. We now have the historic chance to build a greener, more digital and more resilient Europe. Just last week, Heads of State and Government agreed to an EU budget worth 1.8 trillion euros. And they committed to increase our 2030 target for emissions reductions to at least 55%.
I believe that hydrogen can play a key part in this. Developing technologies for low carbon and, in particular, green hydrogen, and building the necessary infrastructure for its deployment, will take us one step closer to making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. That lies at the heart of the Commission’s European hydrogen strategy adopted in July.
No Member State or business can do this alone. It will require significant public and private investments and cross-border cooperation. That's why it makes sense for European governments to come together to support such important projects of common European interest, if the market alone would not take the risk. And it is why we have put special State aid rules in place to smooth the way.
The State aid framework for important projects of common European interest was set up in 2014 for this purpose: it allows sufficient levels of aid for very risky cross-border research and innovation, as well as infrastructure projects, if that is needed to make them a reality.
Member States are in the driving seat to select and integrate individual projects. In doing so, openness and transparency are vital to making this a success. I therefore welcome that 23 European countries have signed today’s manifesto, making this a truly European endeavour. I also welcome that Germany has volunteered to coordinate. And you can count on the Commission to do everything we can to support.
As regards research and development projects, to be part of the IPCEI they have to be highly innovative and can be supported up to the stage of their first industrial deployment.
Infrastructure projects concerning the production, transport and storage of hydrogen can also be part. They must be of major importance for the European objectives in energy, environment or transport. As part of our assessment, we will take into account to what extent the individual projects contribute to these priorities and support the phasing out of environmentally harmful subsidies.
Finally, with support also comes responsibility: potential competition distortions must be kept at bay and the European public has to benefit from its investment. That's why companies, which receive aid, for example have to share knowledge gained and generate positive spillover effects across the EU.
I find it very encouraging that there is such huge interest and ambition by Member States and industry to cover the entire hydrogen value chain.
It will not be an easy task to piece together an IPCEI, where each individual project passes muster, is integrated and contributes to achieve the overall objectives.
It is also possible that there will be more than one IPCEI.
Member States could work in parallel on an IPCEI on technological pathways to decarbonise production processes in sectors such as steel, cement and chemicals.
Clearly scoping the IPCEI is also important to help make sure that we can meet our ambitious timelines.
We will also build on the valuable experiences gained in approving the two up and running IPCEIs to develop highly innovative microchips and batteries, with another ambitious batteries project in the pipeline.
And we are also working on updating our State aid framework for IPCEIs, in particular to further increase the openness of IPCEIs and enable small and medium-sized enterprises to participate fully. We plan to adopt the revised rules by the end of 2021 and will launch a public consultation on the proposal early in the new year.
It is also possible that not every project relating to hydrogen would qualify for an IPCEI, even if it can help cutting emissions.
This does not mean Member States cannot support such projects.
EU State aid rules offer many different possibilities for a Member State to support innovative projects. These rules enabled more than 11 billion euros of public support for research and development in 2018.
In addition, our rules for energy and environmental aid can also play an important role, especially for projects based on existing technology. For instance, they enable schemes that support investment into low carbon industrial equipment and processes, or low emission mobility solutions.
The Recovery and Resilience Facility can also be used by all Member States to finance hydrogen related projects. We will in the coming days publish a set of technical guiding templates on how such projects can be supported in line with EU State aid rules.
So, we have a lot of work ahead of us. In the midst of this crisis and uncertainty, we must seize the window of opportunity. This is a moment to make big, positive changes that will affect the world for a long time to come. I am excited to be part of this journey with you.