China brings big banks along to talk EU tech investment

China plans to invest in the EU tech sector

Ambassador Yanyi says China is poised to pump funds into European tech projects and digital infrastructure. [Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier / Flickr]

Chinese entrepreneurs are lining up to invest in Europe’s tech industry, Chinese ambassador to the EU Yang Yanyi said Thursday (4 June) at a Brussels event.

The workshop brought together five Chinese banks, EU regional groups seeking investment in digital projects, and representatives from the tech industry.

The focus was on China’s contribution to the Juncker Investment Plan, which aims to unlock public and private investments in the economy of at least €315 billion over the next three years (2015-2017).

Before the closed-door workshop, Yanyi said the Juncker Plan would bolster partnership between Europe and technology-driven China.

“It is very encouraging that there is a strong sense of urgency and growing enthusiasm to seize the window of opportunity to cement and upgrade China-EU high-tech and ICT cooperation,” she said.

Among the banks represented at Thursday’s workshop was the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the largest bank in the world.

Yanyi cited 5G development, and projects relating to innovation and cybersecurity among her proposals for China-EU cooperation.

Luigi Gambardella, director of ChinaEU, a business association supporting Chinese-European relations in the tech sector, said he’s optimistic there will be a 5G agreement with China, though it may not be reached at the China-EU summit in Brussels later this month.

“It’s important to sign an agreement with Japan. It’s important to sign an agreement with Korea,” Gambardella told EURACTIV.

“But the country that will make the difference is China. Only with China can we really play the game for the future.”

The European Union has already partnered with Japan and South Korea on developing 5G networks.

>> Read: EU tech standards team returns from discreet China trip

Gambardella also said China’s readiness to discuss cybersecurity should be welcomed.

“The fact that they show interest and openness is something positive,” Gambardella told reporters.

Earlier this year, EU and US leaders criticised China’s newest cybersecurity policy for posing a barrier to foreign technology companies. China only grades technology developed domestically as safe, and now requires foreign banking technology services to be registered with the government.

Gambardella said there had already been many requests from regional projects seeking investment, though he declined to comment on the number of applications or specific proposals while the EU scheme is still in its infancy.

“This is actually the first step in the right direction towards cooperation in digital,” Yanyi said.

As part of its Digital Single Market plans, the European Commission announced that it wants to incentivise investment in broadband infrastructure.

Chinese money is needed in Europe’s lacking investment climate, according to Gambardella.

“Why doesn’t Europe invest?” he asked. “So far we didn’t see great interest.”

Ambassador Yanyi says China is poised to pump funds into European tech projects and digital infrastructure.

“Many Chinese companies in the past invested in our neighbourhood, in Asian countries. Japan, Republic of Korea. But now they’re looking farther away. They’re more and more interested in new developments in general in the Digital Single Market. And they see opportunities for investment,” Yanyi said.

A spokesperson for tech industry trade group DigitalEurope declined to comment on the push for Chinese investment.

>> Read: Juncker plan won’t cost EIB its AAA rating, says lender

Officials from the European Commission presented the newly negotiated European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) at Thursday’s event. EFSI recently started accepting applications from projects seeking loans.

EFSI will use money from the EU and the European Investment Bank (EIB), taking on more financial risk than usual to draw investors.

Details of the new programme were hammered out in trialogue discussions between the European Commission, the European Council and the Parliament that ended last week.

Alessandro Carano, senior advisor on economic and financial affairs at the Commission, stressed that the investment plan aims to draw private money.

“The EU is open,” Carano said. “It is not up to the Commission and EIB to decide the financial mix” of the projects chosen by investors. “It is the region or country or private company that promotes the project that will decide.”

In November 2014, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled an investment plan to mobilise €315 billion in an effort to kick-start the European economy.

>> Read: Juncker's €315bn investment plan unveiled: fifteenfold leverage and solidarity for the south

The plan, was endorsed by EU leaders later on in December, amid divisions over national contributions to the proposed European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI).

>> Read: Divided EU leaders give nod to €315bn Juncker plan

The plan aims to create a new European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), with €5 billion coming from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and an €8 billion guarantee from existing EU funds designed to secure a contribution of €16 billion in total from the institutions.

The €8 billion guarantee will come over a three-year period from the Connecting Europe Facility (€3.3 billion); Europe’s research programme Horizon 2020 (€2.7 billion) and so-called “budget margin”, or unused funds, worth €2 billion.

The resulting EFSI fund totalling €21 billion is expected to generate €240 billion for long-term investments and €75 billion for SMEs and mid-cap firms over the period 2015-2017.

This fifteenfold multiplication from the initial investment to the final amount is to be achieved through a series of leverage methods, according to the EU executive.

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