Employers: Industrial policy must be addressed in a horizontal manner

The success of the new Industrial Strategy will depend on the way it is implemented. Business organisations are calling for a broad, horizontal approach to industrial policy – these are some of the conclusions of the seminar on Industrial Policy that took place on 18 December in Brussels. The participants of the discussion presented their views on a recent proposal by the European Commission on industrial policy.

According to Alexandre Affre, Director of BusinessEurope's Industrial Affairs department, the Commission's proposal was insufficient and a more holistic and integrated approach to industrial policy was needed. In his view, the proposal should be seen from two perspectives: a series of short-term concrete legislative proposals and a long-term strategy that should contain specific post-2020 objectives.

Oliver Blank, Director of European Affairs of the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association, emphasised that industrial policy must be a horizontal layer. Energy, trade and competition policies – all these had a direct impact on industry and action in these areas had to be coordinated in line with the needs of industry. "Digital Union should be a core part of our industrial policy strategy", he said. That was why the digital single market, cyber security and digital skills were indispensable elements of the discussion on the future of EU industry.

Ben Butters, Policy Director at EuroChambres, was critical of the Commission's proposal. In his view it was more an inventory of possible measures rather than a long-term vision, and it did not provide enough clarity. "The EU should focus on areas where its action has added value instead of trying to solve all the existing problems", he said. He also pointed out the importance of sufficient investment in Research & Development, something that should come both from public and private sources.

The EESC is currently working on two opinions related to the industrial policy. The rapporteurs of the documents presented the main conclusions of their documents. Gonçalo Lobo Xavier underlined that a combination of policies should be the way forward. As we still had 28 different approaches in Member States, we needed a framework that would allow each Member State to address its priorities. Among many aspects, he drew the audience's attention to the need for structural reforms in education to address the skills gap. He also pointed out the importance of trade policy.

According to Bojidar Danev, the overall objective should be to create a predictable legal framework within which business could operate with minimum administrative burdens. In his view, planning should have a horizon of 10 to 20 years, and should take into account megatrends influencing how industry would look in the future (nanotechnology, AI innovation in medicine and research related to ageing, to mention only a few).

There were still a number of contradicting views on the proposal among employers, noted Ulla Sirkeinen, summarising the discussion. Some would like to have a long-term strategy with concrete initiatives and targets, whereas others would prefer to have a general framework favourable to industrial development. There were also differences in views on how trade policy should contribute to industrial strategy. Should we address the issue more through a common EU policy or simply facilitate at EU level different initiatives in Member States? What about regulation? The question was how to regulate new technologies and business models to avoid a legal vacuum whilst, at the same time, ensuring that we did not hinder innovation.

The EESC opinions will be voted on during the Plenary Session on 17-18 January 2018.

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