Katainen promotes EU’s €315bn investment plan in Germany

Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen visits a high-tech medical facility in Brandenburg, Germany. [Nicole Sagener]

During a trip to an EU-funded health tech company in Brandenburg, European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen promoted the EU’s €315billion investment package, which is still under considerable criticism in Germany. euractiv.de reports.

Friedrich Köhler, a heart specialist at Berlin’s Charité hospital, paid tribute to Jyrki Katainen’s regular and smooth heart beat.

“I congratulate you,” he told the EU’s high official in charge of jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness.

During Katainen’s stopover at a company in Brandenburg’s Teltow on Thursday (29 January), the former Finnish Prime Minister experienced the technical innovation firsthand.

Köhler was able to examine his heartbeat remotely from Berlin. This was made possible by a small device that Katainen held up to his heart – only for a second – and Köhler was able to determine whether or not there was reason for concern.

The device was developed by the Brandenburg-based medical technology company Getemed, which Katainen visited, with Brandenburg State Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke.

€2 million in funding for telemedicine

For Katainen, Getemed is a shining example for what EU incentives are meant to promote, developing innovations and creating jobs.

Getemed received €2 million over the course of two years through the Brandenburg development bank from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The result is a device that helps doctors monitor the heartbeat of their patients remotely and intervene in an emergency. In Brandenburg, where the distance between physicians and patients is often very far, the new technology can vastly improve livelihoods in the region.

“We want to reach companies just like this with the EU Investment Offensive during their starting phase,” Katainen told EURACTIV Germany. The Finn said it was his second visit to Brandenburg. Compared to the first, which was quite private, he said Thursday’s visit was official and extremely important.

Much advertising is still needed

The Commission Vice-President has been doing quite a bit of travelling, campaigning in Germany, Croatia, Spain, France and other member states. During the visits, he has called for more investments and explained why the EU needs an investment offensive, where the money comes from, what should be invested in, and how private investors can participate in the new European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).

With this campaign, which European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presented shortly after taking office, €315 billion in public and private investments are intended to be mobilised over the next three years (2015-2017).

Originally, the Commission promised that the fund would already be fully functional in June.

“All decisions should be made by the end of June,” Katainen told EURACTIV Germany. But the fund itself still requires personnel and will not take up work until September, the Commission Vice President explained.

Support for small and medium-sized enterprises

The goal is to provide particular support to SMEs with similar innovative ideas and convincing development procedures, Katainen said during his visit to Teltow.

“If a private company needs risk financing, it must verify the added value of its plan opposite EFSI experts,” he explained. If this is successful, it will receive financial support, generated by regional development banks like the Brandenburg Landesbank or through normal commercial banks.

What sounds simple in theory, is a complex system in practice. The German government sent a list with around 60 projects to Brussels. With the help of the EFSI, Germany hopes to generate €90 billion in investments. But many regional politicians are still, in the least, confused.

Project selection not comprehensible

“The way the Commission’s project list was assembled, is not entirely comprehensible for us,” said Hendrik Fischer, Brandenburg state secretary, speaking to euractiv.de.

In the selection of projects, which the German Finance Ministry developed, there is only one Brandenburg-related project – the regional laboratory Berlin-Brandenburg including a section of the autobahn. “Why this particular project was chosen, we do not know,” Fischer commented.

The Brandenburg politician said he is also confused over certain details of the pipeline. “According to the project pipeline, more than €50 million were supposed to be allocated to broadband expansion in North-Rhine Westphalia,” Fischer pointed out. That raises the question, why this was not proposed for Brandenburg, which also has a regional demand, he said. 

“But now we must focus on developing, with the help of the ILB, so our people in Brussels can push one or two of our projects onto the wish list,” Fischer said, indicating project development is likely to be completed over the course of the year.

5,000 new jobs

Meanwhile, Brandenburg’s State Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke emphasised the more positive aspects of the funding plan. “Brandenburg has been highly dependent on EU monies over the past few years,” he told EURACTIV Germany, “but I am certain that our path has been right so far.”

Concretely, the German state hopes to maintain innovation and promote cooperation between the business and scientific communities. Initial resources have already been approved by the regional government and are distributed to the BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg, for example, for a project on technology transfer.

“Possible resources from the EU Investment Offensive would be in addition to this,” said Woidke.

Tillmann Stenger, chairman of the board at the Brandenburg development bank ILB, was optimistic. “Thanks to resources from the European Union, the competitiveness of the state of Brandenburg was strengthened,” he said. And 5,000 extra jobs in the economic promotion sector since 2007 back up this statement, Stenger said.

“Only in this way,” Woidke emphasised, “can we sustainably ensure competitiveness. I assume that we are still in the midst of this development.”

The new president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has announced a plan to mobilise €315 billion in an effort to kick-start the European economy.

Boosting the Luxembourg-based European Investment Bank's (EIB) capital is the central part of the plan,  which involves creating a European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), as well as tools to allow the EIB to take greater risks in its investments.

In a gesture of solidarity, the money from this plan will largely be used in the South of Europe, in the countries worst affected by the crisis.

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

The details of the plan were given in November, and presented to EU heads of states at a European Council meeting in December.

But divisions soon became apparent, notably over Juncker's promise to "neutralise" national contributions to the EFSI under the EU's strict budget rules, which limit public deficits to 3% of GDP.

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

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