Auto industry shines at Restructuring Forum

The Forum understands that oil and gas were the fuels of yesteryear.

By WHAT'S NEW IN THE EU WITH ARI SYRQUIN
October 17, 2007 08:06
4 minute read.
The Jerusalem Post

hydrogen biz 88 224. (photo credit: Bloomberg)

 
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With an eye to the future, a Restructuring Forum to be held in Brussels today and tomorrow (October 17-18) will bring together 200 high-level representatives to discuss the challenges of the automotive industry and how to anticipate change. The automotive industry (automobile makers and parts suppliers alike), one of Europe's major industries, is facing the challenges of globalization, changing societal demands and technological revolution. In response, the industry is taking important, and often difficult, steps to optimize its cost-base and production processes. These changes are often perceived as a threat of the sector as they raise fears related to restructuring and relocation. While they do, indeed, represent a major challenge, they also offer opportunities. All actors (companies, trade unions, regions, governments) should be made aware of the need to anticipate change and to take a proactive approach rather than to react in a defensive and protectionist way. A European partnership for the anticipation of change could enhance competitiveness and employment within the automotive sector. A consensus is sought to be built on the balance between competitiveness and employment while sustaining further progress in safety and environmental performance at a price affordable to the consumer. Against this background, the Directorates-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, for Enterprise and Industry and for Environment have decided to organize the session of the Restructuring Forum, entirely dedicated to the automotive sector. Two hundred high-level representatives from European institutions, companies, social partners, central governments and regional authorities will gather in Brussels to discuss the theme "The challenges of the automotive industry - Towards a European partnership for the anticipation of change." One of the objectives of the Forum is to promote a Joint Declaration on a "European Partnership for the anticipation of change in the automotive industry" which would refer to the responsibilities of each actor (European Union, Governments, companies, trade unions and regions). The Forum could be a starting point to gather all relevant actors to review the evolution of the automotive sector, to open dialogue between the different actors and to help them to adapt to the change. The Forum understands that oil and gas were the fuels of yesteryear. The EU and European industry are reported to think that hydrogen might be the energy of the future and are launching a joint technology initiative to make it happen. Hydrogen is not a source of energy but a promising energy carrier. The use of hydrogen as fuel for road vehicles offers an environmentally friendly solution for mobility because, with the use of hydrogen as fuel, whether in fuel cells or internal combustion engines, there are no carbon emissions and greenhouse gases produced from the vehicle. If the fuel is produced in a sustainable manner, the use of this propulsion technology could significantly contribute to the improvement of the environment. However, at present, hydrogen powered vehicles are not included in the European Community vehicle type-approval framework. This situation results in a fragmented internal market of these vehicles, which discourages the introduction of this environmentally friendly technology. Furthermore, hydrogen is a substance that has different characteristics from conventional fuels that are used for vehicle propulsion. In order to realize the environmental benefits associated with the use of hydrogen vehicles, the share of these in the total vehicle fleet should be increased. One of the major factors contributing to the increasing number of hydrogen vehicles on the roads is the existence of public confidence in this new technology. The new public-private partnership is to develop hydrogen technology and bring it to the market by 2020 in the automobile and transport sector as well as in other areas of daily life. The partnership is set up for six years, with funding worth almost €1 billion - including €470 million from EU coffers. Hydrogen and fuel cells are potential energy sources for very many products and might soon be powering our mobile phones, laptops and heaters. If Europe running on hydrogen is still a sci-fi fantasy, hydrogen cars are here already, some even market ready. However, marketing will be complex and costly because these vehicles are not yet covered by the EU's approval system. The commission, therefore, is recommending that procedures be simplified. Last week a proposal was presented by the European Commission for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on type-approval of hydrogen-powered motor vehicles and amending Directive (2007/46/EC). The objective of the proposal is to lay down harmonized rules on the construction of motor vehicles with a view to ensuring the functioning of the internal market while at the same time providing for a high level of public safety and a high level of environmental protection. The proper functioning of the single market in the European Union requires common standards regarding the approval of hydrogen powered vehicles. Action at Community level prevents varying product standards emerging across Member States, which results in fragmentation of the internal market and imposition of unnecessary barriers to intra-Community trade. At the same time, since there are perceived safety issues with using hydrogen for vehicle propulsion, it should be ensured that hydrogen systems are as safe as conventional propulsion technologies. syrquin@013.net The author is head of the International Department at the Joseph Shem-Tov law firm.

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