Macron announces several battery projects in the north of France

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Dunkerque last week to illustrate his fight for re-industrializing the north of France. The Taiwanese group ProLogium just announced the northern French port as its choice to build a new battery factory.

Total investment is estimated at €5,2 billion, of which between 1 and 1,5 billion would come in different forms of state support. The factory will provide work directly for 3 000 employees and for another 12 000 indirectly by 2030.

“A real ecosystem of battery production is developing in the north of France,” says the vice president of ProLogium, Gilles Normand. Three other projects for so-called gigafactories are already announced for the same region. It makes this part of northern France, threatening to be completely de-industrialized,  the most important ‘electric valley’ in the whole of France.

In addition, the French group Orano and the Chinese specialist for lithium batteries, XTC, have agreed on a joint investment of €1,5 billion in a new location in Dunkerque. This means around 4 500 other new jobs in the port city. Northern France is becoming a center for electromobility, with four large battery plants near the assembly plants of large car manufacturers, the daily Les Echos reported.

Macron also cited Dunkerque as a successful model for the re-industrialization of France that he promoted. Dunkerque has lost 6 000 industrial jobs since the turn of the millennium. By attracting new businesses and investments, also by foreign companies, some 20 000 new jobs are to be created by 2030.

Under pressure

Macron’s will to announce successful government initiatives in the northern industrial city is also related to the strong performance of Marine Le Pen’s right-wing party in Dunkerque.

Not so far from Dunkerque, in Valdunes, its Chinese investor has abandoned the last manufacturer in France of train wheels; 336 workers will be jobless soon.

“Many companies are coming to France, profiting from terrains that are given to them and multiple other financial aids,” says Valérie Minet, a militant ‘gilet jaune’ in the region. “When they have cashed their benefits to distribute to the shareholders, they’re gone again.”

Paulo Cabral, secretary of the CFDT union in Saint-Omer, puts it like this: “Announcing investments for future job creation is very good, but the increase of the pension age to 64 years hasn’t passed here yet.”

The whole European Union is under pressure in this story of battery production as it tries to catch up with other major players in the world. “Europe has the means to compete,” says Tobias Gehrke from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). “We’re finding ourselves still in an acceptable position, but the pressure grows,” he warns.

50 factories planned

Some 50 battery factories should be installed in the European Union by 2030. At the moment, not one is already entirely in production. According to the NGO Transport & Environment, 68% of these plans are threatened to be downsized, delayed, or simply halted. T&E points to the  American Inflation Reduction Act or IRA and the huge amount of possible subsidies it represents.

Europe is suffering from a competitivity gap,” Tobias Gehrke continues. “We pay twice as much for our energy than China, and we must do something about that.” Last December, lithium-ion batteries were 24% more expensive in the US than in China; in Europe, it was 34% more.

And when it comes to access to critical raw materials like graphite, lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese, most of them are supplied by… China again. According to Gehrke, it’s highly unrealistic that Europe manages to produce the number of batteries it needs for its car industry by 2030.


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