In an attempt to bolster the EU’s long-term competitiveness and mitigate strategic dependencies, the Council has given the nod to its partial negotiating mandate on the proposed Strategic Technologies for Europe Platform (STEP). This platform is envisaged as a revolutionary step towards transforming and enhancing the critical technological landscape in Europe.
The Genesis of STEP
On 20 June 2023, the proposal for STEP was put forth as part of the package of propositions concerning the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework 2021-2027. The proposal was met with a favourable response, and a partial negotiating mandate on the platform was agreed upon.
STEP: A Panoramic View
STEP seeks to enhance, leverage and steer EU funds, both existing and new, towards investments in deep and digital, clean and bio technologies within the EU. This is a strategic manoeuvre geared towards empowering people who can integrate these technologies into the economy.
The platform aims to focus its investments in three priority areas: deep and digital technologies, clean technologies, and biotechnologies. This strategic focus promises to stimulate innovation and technological advancement in the EU, thereby boosting its global competitive edge.
Clean Technologies and Their Implications
Clean technologies encompass a wide spectrum, including renewable energy, electricity and heat storage, heat pumps, and electricity grids. They also include renewable fuels of non-biological origin, sustainable alternative fuels, electrolysers and fuel cells, carbon capture, utilisation and storage, energy efficiency, hydrogen, water purification and desalination, and advanced materials such as nanomaterials, composites and future clean construction materials. Furthermore, technologies for the sustainable extraction and processing of critical raw materials are also included under the clean technologies umbrella.
The EU’s ability to produce and utilise affordable, reliable, and accessible clean energy is pivotal to its competitiveness in the global clean energy sector. To achieve this, an increase in both public and private investments is essential.
The Role of STEP in Clean Technology
The STEP platform is designed to expedite the development and deployment of home-grown clean energy technologies, energy storage system innovations, and decarbonisation solutions within the EU. It aims to enhance cost-effective, climate-friendly, and socially equitable responses to geopolitical challenges.
The Council’s Partial Negotiating Mandate
The Council’s negotiating mandate on STEP is partial, as its stance on additional financial support for the platform is contingent upon the final outcome of the horizontal negotiations on the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027.
Key Aspects of the Council’s Mandate
In its mandate, the Council has elucidated the objectives and scope of STEP and affirmed its support for the proposed sovereignty seal and sovereignty portal for STEP-related investments. The Council is also in favour of identifying resources within a variety of existing EU programmes and funds, like InvestEU, Horizon Europe, European Defence Fund, Innovation Fund, Recovery and Resilience Facility, and cohesion policy funds, which could bolster STEP objectives.
The Council has agreed to the Commission’s proposal to apply a 100% co-financing rate and a 30% pre-financing for STEP priorities under the 2021-2027 programming period for cohesion policy funds. Moreover, it has approved the proposal to facilitate investments in large enterprises.
Taking into consideration the ongoing budgetary pressure in member states, the Council has also agreed to retroactively apply a 100% co-financing rate to the 2014-2020 cohesion programmes in the final accounting year while extending the deadline for submitting payment applications by 12 months.
Furthermore, the Council has included in its mandate some provisions to alleviate the administrative burden for member states and facilitate the reprogramming of funds towards STEP objectives.
The Road Ahead
The agreed partial mandate will serve as the foundation for negotiations on STEP with the European Parliament. Once a consensus is reached with the Parliament, the regulation will need to be formally adopted by the Council and the European Parliament.
The inception of the Strategic Technologies for Europe Platform marks a significant stride towards revolutionising the technological sphere within the EU. By steering investments towards critical technologies and empowering people who can implement these technologies, STEP promises to bolster the EU’s competitiveness on the global stage.
With its focus on clean technologies, the platform is also set to play a pivotal role in the EU’s pursuit of sustainable practices and energy efficiency. As the negotiations on STEP continue, the anticipation surrounding its potential positive impact continues to mount.