Interview with Malte Lohan, Orgalim Director General
We spoke with Malte Lohan, Orgalim Director General, about the role of Europe’s technology industries in leading the transformation of industry and society and building renewed faith in the EU’s value proposition for its citizens.
You have been Director General at Orgalim – the foremost voice of Europe’s technology industries in Brussels – for just over a year now. What has surprised you most during this time?
Probably the fact that the huge importance of our industries for Europe in terms of jobs and value created does not always translate easily into lobbying power. I’m not talking specifically about Orgalim but the industry as a whole: there is a disconnect between the central role we play in Europe’s economy and society and how we are perceived by our external stakeholders.
Why do you think that might be?
I think in part it’s simply down to who we are as an industry: we are not dominated by five or ten global giants but rather made up of more than 100,000 mid-caps and smaller companies right across Europe. This rich ecosystem is also reflected in a fragmented association landscape, which makes things a little more difficult.
These are the realities of the environment we operate in. Going forward we will have much to gain by finding new ways to engage together across sectors so we can punch above our weight and make our voice heard.
One of the big undertakings in your first year was working with Orgalim’s members on a long-term political strategy for the association – ‘2030: an industry vision for a renewed Europe’ – launched recently at EU Industry Days. What did you hope to achieve by doing this?
The process served two goals. The first was of course to define a longer-term vision towards European policymakers, to serve as our manifesto for the incoming Parliament and Commission. The second was less obvious but important for me arriving new on the scene: to test the level of ambition and sound out new ideas towards Europe from our industries.
And are you happy with the results?
Yes, very much so. Our industry vision sets bold, ambitious and far-reaching objectives for the Europe of 2030. And one of the unique strengths of Orgalim lies in the breadth of industry we speak for: the vision we set out represents the shared view of companies representing a third of EU industry’s workforce and a quarter of EU industrial output. For policy makers, that view is surely worth listening to – and our members stand ready to play our part in shaping a future that’s good.
Orgalim’s vision for 2030 puts forward concrete recommendations for a new kind of ‘industrial strategy’. What makes this strategy different from what’s gone before?
For us, it’s about thinking long-term and putting industry at the heart of solving many of the societal challenges we face here in the EU. That means a change in perspective: starting by asking not ‘what can Europe do for industry?’ but rather ‘what can industry do for Europe?’. This is what Orgalim has done by defining first a vision for the future of Europe, and then setting out how policymakers can help our industries make it a reality.
Our vision is essentially about putting innovation at the heart of the future of Europe, while upholding core European values such as free and competitive markets and a commitment to open, rules-based trade. And I am convinced that it is these values, rather than governments shielding us from competition, that will ultimately prove the EU’s best defence against competitive pressure from countries such as China.
Our vision is essentially about putting innovation at the heart of the future of Europe, while upholding core European values such as free and competitive markets and a commitment to open, rules-based trade.
Orgalim’s vision for 2030 paints an optimistic picture of how technology can shape Europe’s future for the better. What do you see as the most exciting possibility for European technology in the next five to ten years?
Without doubt it’s the technologies to address climate change. Faced with this looming catastrophe, it feels like the world is still in denial: we say the right things but anyone looking at the facts knows we are moving nowhere near fast enough – not just we as industry, but we as consumers, in agriculture, in transport, in policy, everyone.
But if Europe can deliver what we see as our unique strengths in terms of innovation – from technology to business models to societal governance – we can set the bar for the rest of the world, giving other regions a sustainable model to follow. That would be just phenomenal, and it’s clear that technology is at the heart of this.
Are you concerned that messages around climate change might ring a little hollow when it could be said that industry itself is also part of the problem?
No, because I think there is an understanding today that the reality is more nuanced than that. While parts of industry may be part of the problem, it is clear that technology is a big part of the solution. From energy-efficient building systems, to smart grids, to electrification of mobility – these are the innovations that will help the EU deliver on the Paris goals. And industry is needed for that. European firms are leading in developing and manufacturing the technologies that will help tackle emissions across sectors: whether within industry, in transport, agriculture… the list goes on.
Picture this: it’s the first week in office for the newly appointed Commission President, and she has called Orgalim for advice. What one policy measure would you recommend she promotes to make a real difference for European industry in the short term?
Well if I can only pick one thing and it needs to be able to deliver benefits short term, I would advocate massively boosting the funding that goes into infrastructure roll-out and 5G especially. Because digital infrastructure is the foundation to unlock Europe’s technology transformation and it’s not happening fast enough.
Fast forward 10 years: 2030 is just around the corner, how will you measure success?
At the industry level, we will know we have been successful if by 2030 there is some clear measure that EU industry is playing in the global top league. This won’t necessarily mean European companies will top the lists of the biggest companies worldwide – as I said earlier, our industry is not dominated by one or two giants – but we should see growth and investment figures showing that we are competing at the highest level across the fields that matter most to our continent.
However, I am also convinced that the new kind of industrial strategy we are advocating will also require a new way of measuring success – one that goes beyond simple economic indicators. After all, if we are building our strategy around what industry can do for Europe, then we need to start by measuring that contribution.
Now is the time to define the right vision for industry’s role in the future of Europe, and to demonstrate the broader value for citizens and companies alike of working together within the framework of the EU.
What other benchmarks of success could you envisage in that case?
For example, going back to climate change as an area where the technology industries can make a real difference to Europe's society: if we cannot see a reduction in average temperature rises by 2030 in line with the Paris Agreement, then we will know something has gone wrong.
Another indicator could be how citizens’ views on Europe evolve. If we continue on the track we’re on now, with a growing number of Europeans losing faith in the EU as a political project, we will be in a really terrible place in five years’ time. But if we can work to make sure the EU framework enables Europe’s industries to deliver prosperity, jobs and answers to citizens’ challenges, that will go a long way towards building a convincing case for the benefits of European-level collaboration.
Of course industry cannot do this alone. But the whole point we are trying to make is that now is the time to define the right vision for industry’s role in the future of Europe, and to demonstrate the broader value for citizens and companies alike of working together within the framework of the EU.