Action, leadership, balance: shaping an EU industrial strategy that delivers for citizens

27 September 2019

Technology transformation, climate ch...

Technology transformation, climate change, growing competition from the US and China… little wonder industrial strategy is back at the top of the EU agenda. How can policymakers help Europe’s industries retain their leading edge and drive innovation to address society’s biggest challenges? This was the question fuelling the discussions at the event ‘Enabling European industry’s global leadership’, co-organised by Orgalim and the European Forum for Manufacturing (EFM) on 25 September.

Hosted by MEP Ville Niinistö, the evening brought together parliamentarians, institutional stakeholders and high-level technology industry representatives for a roundtable on the Internal Market and European industrial strategy, followed by a dinner-debate on the external dimension of the EU’s competitiveness, from leading the climate transition to promoting rules-based trade. A great deal of ground to cover – with a number of signposts emerging from the discussions to point a way forward.

The time to act? Now!

A sense of urgency permeated the evening’s debates. In a time of technology-led transformation, the EU must act quickly to harness the potential of industrial innovation that can shape a future that’s good for all Europeans. This means boosting investment in high-tech infrastructure like smart grids or e-mobility, with Scania’s Lars-Henrik Jörnving and MEP Dinesh Dhamija pointing to 5G as a top priority. Plus, there is no time to waste in completing the EU Internal Market. "The Single Market offers unique opportunities for companies and consumers," underlined MEP Andreas Schwab, "but it is still not a reality." A stark warning came from Pierre Delsaux, Deputy Director-General at the European Commission’s DG for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs: “If we don’t make the Single Market a reality soon, we will see the impact on EU competitiveness in as little as five years.” At the same time, the challenge of climate change looms large for European industry and society. Mauro Petriccione, Director General of DG Climate Action at the Commission, brought into sharp focus the need to shift ambition up a gear: "We have to move from improving to radically transforming our economy, while still ensuring economic development."

Enabling European leadership

Yet despite a tough road ahead, there was clear consensus that European industry has what it takes to become a global leader. “Europe really has the potential to turn these challenges into opportunities,” underlined Rada Rodriguez, Orgalim Deputy President and Member of the Management Board at Schneider Electric. “Our technology industries are ready to lead the urgent energy transition and digital transition that will be crucial for Europe’s future.” For Orgalim Director General Malte Lohan, the nexus of the climate agenda and tech agenda is the “sweet spot” for the EU – where it can simultaneously grow its global innovation leadership, while securing its status as a geopolitical agenda-setter.

Striking the balance

So as we embark on a new legislative period, how can the EU fully enable its industries’ leadership? Panellists agreed that it will all come down to getting the balance right. First, Europe will need to balance calls for a more interventionist industrial policy with its commitment to the liberal market model – in particular the Internal Market that has served EU companies so well. For HAWE’s Karl Hauesgen this is “the big question policymakers have to face.” Yet it cannot be either/or, argued Pierre Delsaux: “You cannot have a real industrial policy without a real Internal Market.” Moreover, the EU will need to balance its commitment to free trade with the realities of a new geopolitical landscape – all while respecting our core European values, as MEPs Seb Dance and VP Heidi Hautala pointed out, highlighting the role of trade policy in bolstering Europe’s climate leadership.

Ultimately, success will depend on striking the right balance across all policy areas that impact Europe’s industrial competitiveness. Dr Norbert Schultes, Head of the Economic Department at the Permanent Representation of Germany in Brussels, put a fine point on it: “We need to shift away from a singular view that looks at individual policy areas, and instead move to a more integrated approach that includes internal and external dimensions.” And the driving motivation must be to deliver innovation and prosperity for Europe’s citizens, as Malte Lohan concluded: “The right industrial strategy will start by asking not what Europe can do for industry but what industry can do for Europe.”

For all the photos from the event, be sure to visit our Flickr gallery - and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for the latest updates on all our events.

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