Digital technologies have reached a degree of maturity that allows their use across a wide range of economic sectors in manufacturing as well as in service industries. According to the 2010 edition of the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS), more than 50% of the EU workforce use ICT in their daily work, with individual EU Member States reaching rates above 85%. Services sectors are identified as the heaviest users of ICT (for instance, more than 90% of finance employees using ICTS in their daily work), which is to be seen as a natural consequence of the increasing digitalisation of many services – such as eBanking, eCommerce, and online media.
Health and related sectors are a central aspect of human existence and thus attract particular attention of citizens. The sectors of biomedical engineering and the medical and care services industry – including research and development – are among the fastest growing industrial areas, in terms of turnover as well as employment. Under biomedical engineering we understand the bridging between methods of engineering and medicine and biology for diagnostic and therapeutic measures in healthcare – including, among others, biologics and biopharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical drugs, various types of devices for chemical or biological analysis or processing as well as the development of medical equipment and technology for cure, treatment and prevention of disease. The combination of research and development, engineering and industrial production, and medical and care services is particularly important.
In July 2013, the EESC has adopted an Opinion on Industrial policy in which industrial policy was qualified as a Growth initiative with great potentials. Following up the Opinion it is suggested to discuss somewhat underestimated aspects of the on-going industrial cycle that are vital for future growth and jobs, entailing huge consequences for (manufacturing) industry. It is about the impact of services, digitalisation, ICT and new variations in the same framework - such as 3D printing and other applications (ICT-plus) - on the industrial processes. Services are an increasing part of the European economy, and creating more jobs than manufacturing. The ICT-industry itself is growing in Europe by 10% annually. Services and ICT-plus have huge socio-economic and political implications.
This exploratory opinion, requested by the Lithuanian presidency, sheds light on the specific contribution that State-owned enterprises can make to the EU's competitiveness. It pinpoints the specific challenges that exist in this area for EU policy and the European institutions. As part of its consideration of the way in which public undertakings could contribute more to the EU's economic recovery and competitiveness, the Committee has addressed the issue of Europe's Services of General Economic Interest in a number of opinions. The EESC also raises the question of the economic activities of the EU's executive agencies, wondering if they are truly independent, while their tasks and responsibilities lead them to be directly involved in socio-economic activities.
The EESC welcomes the Commission proposal but highlights the fact that it can only be one component of dedicated financial instruments for social businesses. The Committee reminds the Commission that some elements of the proposal have to be clarified in order to allow such funds to be successful, both for the financial community and for the final beneficiaries.
The EESC welcomes the actions proposed by the Commission to develop tools to improve awareness of the sector and the visibility of social enterprise and is pleased to note that the Commission has taken on board several points from its exploratory opinion on the same issue. The EESC calls on Member States to develop national frameworks for the growth and development of that kind of enterprise.