New industrial strategy for Europe brings much-needed paradigm shift, says EESC

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For the first time, we now have a real strategy that can help Europe re-assert its industrial sovereignty, says the EESC in its newly adopted opinion on the proposed
New industrial strategy for Europe. What is still needed is a clear action plan with practical short-, medium- and long-term measures to achieve its goals.

The EESC points to several strengths in the new strategy compared to its many predecessors, in particular:

  • a truly strategic approach to address the twin digital and green transitions;
  • a focus on industrial alliances to promote the emergence of "European champions";
  • more relaxed EU rules on state funding for strategic industrial projects and the setting-up of "projects of common European interest";
  • the use of the EU's regulatory power in international relations;
  • the decarbonisation of Europe's energy-intensive industries.

The strategy's main weakness, in the EESC's view, is that it does no more than set out a list of future projects, instead of providing a clear short-, medium- and long-term action plan, with yearly targets and monitoring procedures for measuring progress.

The EESC agrees with the Commission: the age of naivety in international relations is over. Free trade is all well and good, but it has to be fair trade too.

It is our firm belief that an industrial strategy should go hand in hand with foreign trade and foreign policy, says the opinion's rapporteur Mihai Ivașcu, and that whoever wants to be part of the single market should comply with all its rules, including the principle of climate neutrality.

The EU should use the full spectrum of weapons at its disposal to put its industry on an equal footing with its competitors, argues the EESC: border adjustment measures, compliance with environmental standards for importers, subsidies for low-carbon exports, trade defence instruments and steps to address carbon-pricing differences in free trade agreements.

The COVID-19 lesson

The COVID-19 crisis has made Europe's urgent need for such an industrial policy clear for everyone to see. The pandemic has triggered a massive economic recession, with the European Central Bank forecasting an 8.7% drop for 2020.

All means must be used to avoid the loss of industrial production becoming permanent, urges the EESC, pointing to the need to:

  • map out the impact of COVID-19 on individual sectors and value chains, address their specific needs and restore production/employment;
  • (re-)build integrated industrial value chains within the EU, reshore strategic activities and ensure security of supply in sectors such as energy, healthcare and active pharmaceutical ingredients.

This means supporting companies that relocate to Europe, argues the EESC, allowing the EU to regain control overproduction and reduce its growing dependency on imports of key items such as respirators, masks and other goods, which has been brought to light by the COVID-19 outbreak.

A key role for civil society

The key role the social partners and civil society organisations are to play in designing the future of European industry is a very welcome feature of the new strategy. A constructive social and civic dialogue will contribute to the successful implementation of the strategy, stresses the EESC.

In our industry, social dialogue is a very important tradition. It's linked to the quality of the working experience – the quality of occupations and jobs. Europe should not throw this overboard. We should really preserve this heritage, says the opinion's co-rapporteur Dirk Bergrath. If we are going to change our world – go more and more into a digital future – what we have achieved in terms of social dialogue will be crucial.

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