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EU must make accelerating permits a priority, says business group

European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 1, 2023.REUTERS/Johanna Geron/File Photo

More than eight in 10 companies say the time it takes to secure permits is a barrier to investing in Europe and accelerating this process should be a top EU priority, business lobby BusinessEurope said on Tuesday.

In its survey of 240 companies, 83 per cent found the complexity and duration an obstacle to investing in Europe, with 53 per cent calling it the permitting process a “serious problem”.

BusinessEurope President Fredrik Persson said most members felt the investment climate in Europe was worse than in the United States and Asia and the top three factors were energy costs, then excessive regulation and lengthy permit procedures.

The lobby group, whose membership comprises the national business federations of 36 countries, said the next European Commission from 2024 to 2029 should tackle permits to boost Europe’s competitiveness.

“This comes with basically no cost, but a huge upside for companies,” Persson told Reuters.

Data released on Tuesday showed that 47 per cent of companies took one to three years to secure permits and 16 per cent even longer. Many companies needed multiple permits to operate, such as an LNG terminal in Germany that needed about 20 per year.

Persson said international competition had intensified and the United States and Asia were taking a more flexible approach to permits, with the possibility of fast-tracking or setting fixed times, realising this propelled investment.

He said it took twice as long to build a wind farm in Germany or get a medical device approved in Europe as in the United States.

Persson said businesses were not looking for authorities to lower the bar.

“It’s not the ‘yes’ percentage we’re trying to change here, it is the speed,” he said.

Under a law set to enter force this year, the EU will set short timelines for permits to be granted for clean tech production with a single national body in charge of the process.

Persson said this was a good first step, but this approach with set time limits should be applied to all parts of the value chain, such as the steel produced for a wind turbine tower.

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