Not only does the bloc need Chinese imports, but any trade measures against China’s solar industry could prompt retaliation.
Europe has a “crucial dilemma when it comes to green industrial policy,” said Simone Tagliapietra, a climate policy specialist at the Bruegel think tank. “How to strike the right balance between economic efficiency and geopolitical resilience, without slowing down the green transition.”
ESMC, representing EU manufacturers, called on the Commission last week to apply “provisional safeguarding measures” such as a partial import ban on Chinese solar panels “as a last resort.”
But SolarPower Europe CEO Walburga Hemetsberger told POLITICO such moves “would really be detrimental for the solar sector,” and could slow deployment by up to 50 percent.
That split is also apparent among countries. At a December meeting of EU ministers on solar manufacturing, five out of 10 countries appeared resistant to any trade defense measures — but that opinion wasn’t universal, according to a person who took part in the meeting, and was granted anonymity to speak candidly.
“[The] situation is worrying … there is an obvious trade imbalance and dependence on China here,” said a diplomat from an EU country, who was also granted anonymity to speak freely. But “tariffs against China are probably a bad idea.”
“We need to start making strategic choices,” the diplomat said. “Maybe solar is not the battle we should fight.”
Koen Verhelst and Julia Wacket contributed reporting. Graphics by Giovanna Coi.