Industry needs a long-term and coherent strategy

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Education and a level playing field in FTAs are conditions for further progress

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Industry4Europe coalition held a high-level roundtable on EU Industrial Policy on 7 March in Brussels.

Luca Jahier, president of the EESC, who opened the event, thanked Philippe Citroën, DG of the European Rail Supply Industry Association (UNIFE) and coordinator of the Industry4Europe coalition for his commitment and active role. In his speech, Mr Jahier supported the coalition's call to put industrial policy at the top of the European political agenda. He stressed that Europe  needs to stick to and follow the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, asthey represent the only possible "master plan" for EU industry. The president underlined that the EESC has always defended a holistic approach to industry: our imperative has always been to reconcile growth, climate, environmental challenges and social challenges. We are convinced, more than ever, that civil society has to be fully involved in these challenges.

Philippe Citroën said that European industry is confronted with an increasingly challenging global context including unfair competition and protective measures. Europe's industry therefore not only needs a long-term strategy, but it also needs continuous political support from the EU institutions and Member States.

During the high-level panel discussion which was moderated by René van Sloten, CCMI member and Executive Director Industrial Policy of the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), Koen Coppenholle, Chief Executive of the European Cement Association (CEMBUREAU), echoed Mr Citroën's plea for a more pro-active industrial policy at European level by calling for a vice-president for industry in the new European Commission.  All relevant stakeholders should be brought together in order to create a framework that allows industry to make more progress.

In his statement, Luc Triangle, SG of IndustriAll Europe, called for better support for Europe's industry in the context of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).  Currently, FTAs fail to create a level playing field. The same social and environmental standards that apply for Europe's industry must also apply for imports. Europe needs to export its values, and must not accept a deterioration of the standards it expects from its own industry. Trade should be used as a tool to export our values, he said. Furthermore, it is important to anticipate transition. Investment in education is crucial for making    Europe the most innovative part of the world. Efforts to combat climate change and promote decarbonisation should trigger innovation and ensure that production stays in Europe. Moreover, the social dimension must be taken on board, and this is one of the biggest challenges.

The European Commission representative, Mark Nicklas, said that investment, innovation and internationalisation are key in industry policy. At EU level, the Commission has already reacted to the different challenges, for instance to digitalisation with the Artificial Intelligence Strategy, to environmental challenges with the Plastic Strategy and the Circular Economy Platform, to innovation with the European Innovation Council (EIC). European industry does not need more proposals but more implementation. With regard to funding programmes, action is also needed now from the co-financers. 

In his contribution Lauro Panella, member of EP President Antonio Tajani's cabinet, recalled the push for a stronger industrial policy under then Commissioner Tajani. Europe now has some leading industries, such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals or the automotive industry, but this is not enough. Education is crucial, since industry needs new skills, but it also needs access to money, standardisation, planning and self-confidence. Mr Panella regretted that only a tiny percentage of the ECB's money reaches the real economy. One of the impediments he sees is the lack of confidence on the part of entrepreneurs: They need to be motivated.