3D printing, in combination with the internet, robotics and open-source software, will result in a new industrial revolution with profound implications over the coming years for national economies, business models and education.
3D manufacturing – better known as 3D printing – is a process that uses digital "blueprints" to produce three-dimensional products and parts. It is also referred to as "additive manufacturing". A wide variety of materials are commonly used in this process: bioplastics, gypsum, gold, etc. Particular attention should be paid here to the origin of products. There are unprecedented opportunities in this field for businesses.
The Food and drink Industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the EU economy employing directly 4.25 million workers in the EU. It is a non-cyclical and resilient pillar with a strong presence in all member states. It processes 70% of EU agriculture produce and provides safe, quality and nutritious food to the benefit of European consumers, besides being the largest global exporter of food and drink products. The sector generates 7% of EU GDP and should be an important contributor to achieve the EU target set in the 2020 strategy of achieving the necessary expansion of the manufacturing sector that will make it a contributor of 20% of European GDP.
Key competitiveness indicators show that the sector is losing its competitive edge. An EESC own –initiative opinion will help make the case with the EU Commission for a sectoral focus on the sector. It will indicate those measures necessary to reverse this negative trend and to enhance the sector’s competitiveness both in the Internal Market and in the Global market. The main thrust will be focused on the creation of sustainable employment all along the food supply chain, encouraging and facilitating new investment, promoting innovation policies and enhancing export performance.
The EESC is of the opinion that persisting imbalances as well as the creation of trust and confidence across Europe require more effective and democratic economic governance, notably in the Eurozone. It has become clear that the current system of rules underpinning the EU, and particularly the euro area, has created confusion on the legal, institutional and democratic fronts. A new approach is therefore needed. With this in mind, the Committee presents a roadmap which summarises the different stages and puts forward institutional proposals and preparatory initiatives regarding the completion of the political pillar of EMU.
The EESC welcomes the Proposal for a Directive presented by the European Commission, through which the Commission is continuing to implement the measures included in the action plan to strengthen the fight against tax fraud and tax evasion. Information on advance tax rulings and advance pricing arrangements is very important and can help the Member States to trace artificial transactions. The EESC recommends that the Member States make efforts to ensure that the provisions of the proposal for a directive are transposed correctly.
The Employment Guidelines cover job creation, skills supply, well-functioning labour markets, social protection and fighting poverty. They should set quantified objectives for employment and poverty reduction, and support entrepreneurship and the social economy. Public investment should not be considered as expenditure. Workers' mobility should safeguard the transferability of their social rights.
The EU Climate and Energy Framework is based on substantial previous legislation, some of it incompletely transposed and ineffectively implemented. Bringing the Energy Union into being will require further legislation and rigorous implementation of it. A robust governance framework is vital and the most effective type of governance is where agreeing methods for determining and implementing the objective is seen as a joint enterprise involving all stakeholders.
The EESC therefore recommends that a structured all-stakeholder dialogue must be linked to the governance process. A clear political lead to establish and participate in such dialogue and engagement on energy transition issues by the EU's legislative institutions should be articulated and developed as a matching and supporting process alongside the Energy Union. Primarily this should take the form of an independent and trusted European Energy and Climate Dialogue enabling a balanced representation of all stakeholders to exchange information, express views and influence policy-making on energy issues and consequently engage actively in the energy transition.
Health and related sectors are a central aspect of human existence and thus attract particular attention of citizens. The sectors of biomedical engineering and the medical and care services industry – including research and development – are among the fastest growing industrial areas, in terms of turnover as well as employment. Under biomedical engineering we understand the bridging between methods of engineering and medicine and biology for diagnostic and therapeutic measures in healthcare – including, among others, biologics and biopharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical drugs, various types of devices for chemical or biological analysis or processing as well as the development of medical equipment and technology for cure, treatment and prevention of disease. The combination of research and development, engineering and industrial production, and medical and care services is particularly important.
The Committee has received a request for an exploratory opinion from the incoming Latvian Presidency, which recommended to look at the following aspects in regard to the agricultural and forestry sectors: rural development, social aspects, regional contribution and the potential in achieving objectives and the "self-sufficiency" of the EU in the fields of food and renewable energy. A holistic assessment and approach is required in order to facilitate the reduction of GHG emissions without hampering the sustainable development and competitiveness of the EU.
The European economic governance rules, conceived in crisis, played an important role in fiscal consolidation and economic policy coordination, but the cost was high in terms of growth and employment. The quantitative easing measures now being embarked upon by the European Central Bank need to be matched by greater political initiatives by the Member States. In the review of the Multiannual Financial Framework in 2016, there is a need to back urgent structural reforms of common EU interest with some form of fiscal capacity. A reasonable deviation from the 3% deficit parameter should be considered as a temporary exception for a given number of years and not be automatically liable to sanctions. A lack of implementation of country-specific recommendations (CSRs) could be countered by real involvement of civil society and the social partners in drawing up CSRs.
The EESC welcomes the Investment Plan for Europe as a step in the right direction, which however faces serious questions about the Plan's size and timescale, the high degree of leverage expected and the potential flow of suitable projects. The Plan proposes that contributions to the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) from Member States will not be included in budget deficit calculations and this is to be welcomed, but it begs the question as to why ongoing strategic public infrastructure expenditures are not treated in the same way. Strategic public investment which underpins present and future economic development should be incentivised by a more benign European fiscal framework.