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News 16 January 2024

Top story of the week: Council of the EU reaches partial agreement on Strategic Technologies for Europe Platform (STEP)

 On 10 January 2024, EU ambassadors from the twenty-seven member states agreed on the Council of the EU’s partial negotiating position regarding the proposed Strategic Technologies for Europe Platform (STEP). Introduced in June 2023 as part of the mid-term revision of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) for the 2021-2027 period, the platform aims to support investments in key technologies within the digital, deep tech, clean tech, and biotech fields to reduce dependencies and enhance the bloc’s competitiveness.

The initial ambition was for STEP to serve as a sovereignty fund capable of competing with the US Inflation Reduction Act. However, the European Commission had to scale back its proposition, suggesting STEP be implemented and funded through existing programmes like Horizon Europe, InvestEU, and the European Defence Fund, with an initially proposed budget of 10 billion euros. In response, MEPs, who voted on their positions on the MFF and STEP at the end of last year, called for an additional 3 billion euros of financing. Meanwhile, the Council of the EU's position on budgeting remains unclear, tied to ongoing discussions related to the MFF, hence the partiality of the negotiating position reached last week.

Nevertheless, the Council’s stance has already clarified the objectives and scope of STEP, supporting the creation of a “sovereignty seal” – an EU quality label awarded to projects contributing to the STEP objectives – and a “sovereignty portal” – a one-stop shop designed to assist project promoters and companies in obtaining funding and gaining visibility. Additionally, the Council has amended the Commission’s original proposition, introducing new provisions to reduce the administrative burden for member states and facilitate the reprogramming of funds towards STEP objectives.

With the Council of the EU having expressed its negotiating mandate, trilogues will now commence with the European Parliament. In its report, the Parliament expressed the intention to further align STEP with several pieces of legislation, including the Digital Decade programme, the Critical Raw Materials Act, and the Net-Zero Industry Act. MEPs also propose an interim evaluation of STEP in 2025, paving the way to amend it or even propose a new, fully-fledged European Sovereignty Fund, reverting to the original foundational ideas of the STEP.