The Commission's proposal on industrial policy is a step in the right direction, but the EU needs a long term, comprehensive strategy: this is one of the conclusions of the debate at the Employers' Group meeting on 6 December 2017. The aim of the debate was to contribute to two opinions on industrial policy that the EESC is currently working on.
Industrial policy evolved from a single horizontal approach, through sector-specific policies to a value-chain approach, noted Joost van Iersel, President of the ECO Section, in his introductory remarks. He went into the importance of the rapid changes affecting industry, such as the internet of things and artificial intelligence. He also underlined the geopolitical dimension of industrial policy.
According to Ulla Sirkeinen, the rapporteur's expert, the Commission's proposal is a consistent continuation of previous work. It would allow horizontal policies to be tailored to the sector's needs. One overall goal was to create a framework for industrial change and to mainstream all sectorial policies at the same time. This was in line with what the EESC had proposed in its opinions on industrial policy in the past.
As Jean Philippe Peuziat pointed out, in a globalised world the competition becomes fiercer, and most of the emerging powers such as China and India were setting long-term targets for industrial development. Mr Peuziat spoke on behalf of Industry4Europe - an organisation bringing together over 120 sectorial industrial associations. In his view, the Commission's proposal was a step forward as it brought industrial policy back to the centre of the debate. However, Industry4Europe would rather push for a long-term strategy with real targets to be reached. The success of the Commission's proposal would depend on its implementation.
The EESC is currently working on two opinions related to industrial policy. The first, entitled "A Comprehensive approach to industrial policy", is an exploratory opinion requested by the Bulgarian Presidency and does not directly refer to the Commission proposals. Its rapporteur, Goncalo Lobo Xavier, explained the draft recommendations of the opinion, including the following:
- Start-ups should be encouraged to develop solutions that boosted industrial activities and increased industry's competitiveness.
- Industry reshoring had to be based on Europe's economic model, focused on knowledge, innovation, high-level skills and R&D activities, as well as a friendly and sustainable environment for business.
- There would be no industrial success without a properly skilled labour force. In response to the needs of modern industry, we had to adapt education and training systems.
- Europe had to lead by example regarding sustainability, respect for European social standards and fair competition. However, Europe could not ignore existing bad practice by other global players that put European values, competitiveness and jobs at risk.
The second opinion on industry is entitled "Investing in a smart, innovative and sustainable industry". Its rapporteur, Bojidar Danev, underlined that industrial policy required certain flexibility due to rapidly changing technologies. Europe still had a competitiveness advantage in several branches of industry, such as the automotive industry, pharmaceuticals, solar energy and military equipment, Mr Danev said.
In order to maintain this advantage, a number of measures were needed. The legal framework had to be predictable; Member States had to reform education systems. In a knowledge-based environment, efficient R&D played a crucial role. Therefore we had to provide proper funding, including both public and private investment. Industrial policy should be also considered in the scope of megatrends which had an incredible impact on the current pace at which circumstances were changing. Industrial policy had become an indispensable part of global geopolitics - that was one of the reasons that it was becoming increasingly important.
The Employers' Group will continue the debate on industrial policy at its extraordinary bureau meeting on 18 December. The EESC opinions on the subject ware expected to be voted upon in January 2018.
The European Commission presented its proposal on EU industrial policy strategy in September. The document brings existing and new horizontal and sector-specific initiatives together in a comprehensive package. The new elements in the strategy include inter alia:
- a package on cybersecurity;
- a proposal for a Regulation on the free flow of non-personal data;
- a strategy on plastics and measures to improve the production of renewable biological resources;
- initiatives to modernise the intellectual property framework;
- an initiative to improve the functioning of public procurement;
- an extension of the Skills Agenda to new key industry sectors.