Sun. Jul 14th, 2024
Brussels, 22 June 2023

The European Commission has approved, under EU State aid rules, a €280 million Belgian measure to support ArcelorMittal Belgium (‘ArcelorMittal’) in partially decarbonising its steel production processes. The measure will contribute to the achievement of the EU Hydrogen Strategy, the European Green Deal and the Green Deal Industrial Plan targets, while helping to end dependence on Russian fossil fuels and fast forward the green transition in line with the REPowerEU Plan.

The Belgian measure

Belgium notified to the Commission a €280 million measure to support ArcelorMittal’s project aimed to partially decarbonise its steel production in Ghent, where it operates two blast furnaces producing liquid hot metal from a mixture of iron ore, coke and limestone.

The aid, which will take the form of a direct grant and a soft loan, will support the construction of a direct reduction iron plant. Together with a new electric arc furnace, the plant will substitute one of the two existing blast furnaces. Natural gas, initially used in the energy mix, will be gradually phased out of the steel production processes. Ultimately, the plant will be operated using renewable hydrogen and only complemented by low-carbon hydrogen if there is not sufficient renewable hydrogen available.

The plant is envisioned to start operating in 2026 and it is expected to produce 2.3 million tonnes of low-carbon direct reduced iron per year. Once completed, the project is expected to avoid the release of above 50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. ArcelorMittal has committed to disseminate the technical know-how gained through the project.

The Commission’s assessment

The Commission assessed the measure under EU State aid rules, in particular Article 107(3)(c) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TFEU’), which enables Member States to support the development of certain economic activities subject to certain conditions, and the Guidelines on State aid for climate, environmental protection and energy 2022 (‘CEEAG’).

Belgium selected ArcelorMittal’s project in the context of an open call in 2021 to form part of an IPCEI on hydrogen technologies and systems. ArcelorMittal’s project intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the energy-intensive steel sector. As aid for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, including through support of decarbonisation projects, is one of the main categories of aid allowed by the CEEAG, the measure was best suited for assessment under these guidelines

The Commission found that:

  • The measure facilitates the development of an economic activity, in particular the production of green steel. At the same time, it supports the objectives of key EU policy initiatives such as the European Green Deal, the EU Hydrogen Strategy, the Green Deal Industrial Plan and the REPowerEU Plan.
  • The aid has an ‘incentive effect’, as the beneficiary would not carry out the investments in green steel production without the public support.
  • The measure is necessary and appropriate to promote the production of green steel. In addition, it is proportionate, as the level of the aid corresponds to the effective financing needs.
  • The measure has sufficient safeguards to ensure that undue distortions of competition are limited. In particular, if the project turns out to be very successful, generating extra net revenues, the beneficiary will return part of the aid received to Belgium (claw-back mechanism). Furthermore, the beneficiary will disseminate the technical know-how gained through the project. Finally, the project is subject to monitoring to verify its progress towards the objectives of CO2 emission savings, phasing out of natural gas and phasing in the renewable hydrogen.
  • The aid brings about positive effects that outweigh any potential distortion of competition and trade in the EU.

On this basis, the Commission approved the Belgian measure under EU State aid rules.

Background

The 2022 Guidelines on State aid for climate, environmental protection and energy (‘CEEAG’) provide guidance on how the Commission will assess the compatibility of aid measures for environmental protection, including climate protection, and energy which are subject to the notification requirement under Article 107(3)(c) TFEU.

The new guidelines, applicable as from January 2022, create a flexible, fit-for-purpose enabling framework to help Member States provide the necessary support to reach the Green Deal objectives in a targeted and cost-effective manner. The rules involve an alignment with the important EU’s objectives and targets set out in the European Green Deal and with other recent regulatory changes in the energy and environmental areas and cater for the increased importance of climate protection. They include sections on aid for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions including through support for renewable energy, energy efficiency measures, aid for clean mobility, infrastructure, circular economy, pollution reduction, protection and restoration of biodiversity, as well as measures to ensure security of energy supply, subject to certain conditions.

The 2022 CEEAG aim to help Member States meet the EU’s ambitious energy and climate targets at the least possible cost for taxpayers and without undue distortions of competition in the Single Market.

With the European Green Deal Communication in 2019, the Commission reinforced its climate ambitions, setting an objective of net zero emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050. The European Climate Law in force since July 2021, which enshrines the 2050 climate neutrality objective and introduces the intermediate target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, sets the ground for the ‘Fit for 55‘ legislative proposals presented by the Commission on 14 July 2021. Among these proposals, the Commission has presented amendments of the Renewable Energy Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive with more ambitious binding annual targets to increase the production of energy from renewable sources and reduce energy use at EU level.

In July 2020, the Commission published its EU Hydrogen Strategy, setting ambitious goals for clean hydrogen production and use, and launched the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance, bringing together the European hydrogen community (industry, civil society, public authorities).

In February 2023, the Commission published the Green Deal Industrial Plan to enhance the competitiveness of Europe’s net-zero industry and support the fast transition to climate neutrality.

Today’s decision follows the Commission’s approval, on 17 February 2023, of a €460 million Spanish measure to support ArcelorMittal decarbonise its steel production in Gijón.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.104897 in the State aid register on the Commission’s competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of State aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the Competition Weekly e-News.

Quotes

 

 

Forward to your friends