New industrial strategy for the ‘digital age’

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The opportunities presented by the digital industrial revolution require a coordinated response from all stakeholders, a renewed focus on skills and the setting up of regional networks.

The European Union urgently needs an “EU 4.0 industrial strategy” – and to complete the Digital Single Market – in order to address the current fragmentation resulting from 28 separate digital policies. This was one of the key points contained in the EESC’s opinion entitled “Industry 4.0: State of affairs, the way forward”, which was adopted at the plenary session on 13 July in response to the Commission’s Communication on “Digitising European Industry.”

The next revolution

The term “Industry 4.0” is used to describe the so-called fourth industrial revolution, which is being driven by automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. This has led to concepts such as the Internet of Things and Cloud Computing, which are transforming industrial processes and creating huge opportunities.

Nonetheless, the net effects of all this remain unpredictable, which is why the EESC has called for awareness-building and a common sense of purpose among all stakeholders.

An ambitious vision

In setting out a plan to fully harness the potential of Industry 4.0, the EESC opinion recognises and welcomes the Communication’s coherence and ambitious strategic vision for industrial policy. In particular, it welcomes the focus on four key issues: technologies and platforms; standards and reference architectures; regional innovation hub networks; and skills at all levels.

The EESC would, however, like the Commission to focus on raising awareness of the importance of acquiring digital skills, and to present effective, EU-level coordination as an example to national governments.

Promoting Digital Innovation Hubs as centres for advanced training of the workforce could be an effective means of achieving these objectives.

“Cooperation is key,” says EESC Rapporteur Joost van Iersel. “National and regional 4.0 Platforms must bring together all relevant actors. Within a common EU framework, each should develop its own characteristics. Partnerships of all kinds, synergies and clustering, cross-border arrangements and European benchmarking should be promoted.

Implementing the vision

The EESC now calls on the Commission to act as a catalyst to implement the strategic plan. This implies effective coordination of competing approaches, while avoiding uncertainty and fragmentation of the market. The Digital Single Market will be a vital conduit in this, while accelerated European standardisation could prove decisive.

The Committee also wants policy-makers to take into account the considerable social consequences of the digital industrial revolution. It is vital, for example, that specific attention is paid to those generations and income groups that could be hardest hit in terms of skills and jobs security, in order to avoid further social division.

Deepening EU social dialogue at all levels will help open up discussions on labour market consequences as well as possible adjustments in the field of social and labour law, in order to protect the entire workforce.

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