EU industry ministers met on 16 January to discuss planned national initiatives to help the automotive sector through the current economic crisis.
The measures aim for the same objectives, namely increasing demand while helping the industry to solve its long-term problems and increase its competitiveness in terms of environmental performance, energy efficiency and safety, said Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen after the meeting.
"We are discussing the future of 12 million jobs in Europe and it is clear that if this sector will stay in this crisis for longer period it would also affect many other economic sectors," Verheugen said.
While the "primary responsibility" to respond to the crisis lies with business itself, public support for the sector is "decisive", the Commission stated, urging industry to address its structural problems such as "overcapacity and the need to invest in innovative technologies".
Public sector support and national measures to help the sector should be transparent and respect EU competition and state aid rules, the EU executive stated, underlining that "any race for subsidies is to be avoided".
"There is no free right for the member states and it is very important that nobody asks for that," added Verheugen.
The ministers asked the Commission to find ways to improve speedier access to European Investment Bank loans without discriminating between manufacturers and member states, and highlighted need for early dialogue with the new US administration on the future of the automotive industry.
Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said on Friday that no member state had so far submitted any specific car industry rescue plan for approval by the EU executive, but that French, German and Swedish authorities had been in touch with the Commission about such draft plans.
Todd added that even without a specific national aid plans for the car industry, the EU 27 have several possibilities for helping the industry in the shape of the EU's block exemption regulation and the economic recovery plan endorsed last December by the EU heads of state and government (EurActiv 27/11/08). The plan includes around €5 billion in loan facilities for manufacturers to develop green cars.
The industry is asking for some €40 billion in cheap loans to invest in R&D to meet the new EU CO2 emission reduction targets (EurActiv 18/12/08).
The informal ministerial meeting on Friday underlined the "great urgency" for coordinated measures and swift action, commented Sigrid de Vries from ACEA, the association representing European car manufacturers.
However, "what is really important now is to decide on concrete measures and get them implemented," she said, adding that the EU might need to develop new instruments in order to improve industry's access to liquidity, as the current instruments, she says, are "not good enough".