A shared vision for the future of Europe at EU Industry Days
At this decisive moment for Europe, our innovative industries stand ready to inject fresh momentum into the economy and deliver solutions to society’s biggest challenges. This was the resounding message of EU Industry Days, held in Brussels on 5-6 February. Launched in 2016, the European Commission’s flagship industrial policy event has grown year-on-year, this time attracting a guest list of over 1500.
Recognition of industry’s value to Europe seems to have grown at the highest political levels, too: Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was on site to open the event, setting the tone with his declaration that “industry drives our economy and helps us punch above our weight on the global stage.” Over the next two days, the auditoriums and corridors of The Egg conference centre hummed with a shared optimism regarding the ability of EU industry to deliver not only economic prosperity but solutions in areas from climate change to mobility, healthcare to the circular economy.
How can Europe fulfil this potential in the coming years – and what role does policy have to play? There was no shortage of ideas from conference participants, whether worked out through panel discussions or in parallel meetings such as the latest instalment of the Commission’s ‘Industry 2030’ High-Level Roundtable, where leading stakeholders including Orgalim President Tomas Hedenborg have been gathering recommendations on the future of EU industrial strategy.
Industry drives our economy and helps us punch above our weight on the global stage.
For Orgalim, EU Industry Days was the ideal platform to share the recently launched ‘2030: an industry vision for a renewed Europe’. Kicking off the Orgalim session on day two, Director General Malte Lohan struck a positive note: “We have some phenomenal strengths here in Europe; our task over the next ten years will be to tap into these and really scale them up.”
Orgalim’s roadmap towards 2030 centres around three imperatives – summed up by the keywords ‘embrace’, ‘enable’ and ‘transform’ – and judging from the broader Industry Days conversation, these priorities are shared by stakeholders across the industry and policy spectrum.
Embracing digital transformation
Barely a sentence was uttered during the conference without mentioning the magic word: digital. With the digital transformation of industry well underway, it is time for Europe to fully embrace the possibilities of these new technologies, as President Juncker underlined: “If Europe is to succeed, it must not fight this transformation, it must shape it – and industry can lead the way.”
AI will not only change how we look at work and value creation, but it will revolutionise our lives for the better.
Orgalim’s session focused on how the EU can take the lead in artificial intelligence (AI) by focusing on its industrial strengths. In the panel discussion ‘Industrial artificial intelligence: solutions for Europe’s 2030 challenges’ (videostream available here), speakers set out to demystify this key technology. Radu Surdeanu, Senior Director Digital Economy at Siemens, explained that AI has been successfully deployed for over three decades in industrial contexts – while today, the technology is enabling cross-discipline innovation to address broader societal challenges. As Tomas Hedenborg, Group CEO of Fastems and Orgalim President, put it, AI will not only “change how we look at work and value creation”, but will “revolutionise our lives for the better”.
Embracing AI will not be without its challenges, however. Panellists addressed the need to ensure robust cybersecurity, engage with concerns around automation and employment, and foster an open dialogue on ethical issues. Yet consensus reigned that with the right framework in place, industrial AI will deliver a wide range of benefits for Europe in the years to come.
Enabling European leadership
Digital innovation will only be one piece of the puzzle, however. If the EU is to hold its own in an increasingly competitive environment, speakers across the board agreed that coordinated action will be needed enable our industries’ leadership on the global stage. This will mean urgently tackling barriers and fragmentation in the Single Market – as underlined by Elżbieta Bienkowska, Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs – and continuing to push for an ambitious international trade agenda.
Research and innovation funding was also singled out as key to ensuring the benefits of new technologies are felt throughout the economy. Speaking on the Orgalim panel on AI, Tomas Hedenborg underlined how crucial this is for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular: “Many SMEs face a dilemma: there is huge hype around digitalisation and AI but they are unsure of where and how to invest. Here we need networks and investment in collaborative research.”
Transforming challenges into drivers of growth
Last but certainly not least, the event shone a spotlight on how industry can transform Europe’s societal challenges into drivers of future prosperity – think decarbonisation, sustainability and the circular economy. Wrapping up the conference, Jean-Eric Paquet, Director-General for Research and Innovation at the Commission, pointed to the fight against climate change as “a real opportunity for European industry to take the lead, as it is here where we have the systems approach needed to tackle these challenges.” In a similar vein, EU Industry Days also hosted the first meeting of the Circular Plastics Alliance, bringing together stakeholders – including Orgalim – committed to tackling the issue of sustainability in the use of plastics.
We should not be asking ‘what can the EU do for industry?’, but ‘what can industry do for Europe?’
Finally, the issue of skills for the digital industrial age was front and centre throughout. Education and reskilling will be essential to ensure all workers can reap the benefits of digitalisation. Because despite our focus on technology, explained Executive Director of Technology Industries of Finland Laura Juvonen during Orgalim’s AI panel, at the end of the day it is still “people who will make the difference” to Europe’s success.
Leveraging our strengths to deliver for Europe
Returning full circle, this echoed President Juncker’s words that “industry is firstly about people”, explaining his personal connection to industry as the son of a steelworking family. And it was clear from this year’s Industry Days discussions that European industry shares this sense of societal purpose. “We should not be asking ‘what can the EU do for industry?’, but ‘what can industry do for Europe?’,” concluded Malte Lohan when asked about Orgalim’s approach to industrial strategy. “This means industry and policymakers working together to tackle climate change, mobility challenges, changing demographics – and to address how technology can reinvigorate citizens’ belief in the EU by leveraging our European strengths to succeed in a changing global environment.”