A future vision for EU industry

The Farm 51 lead 3D generalist Tomasz Sokolowski presents the 'Virtual Heart' application in Zabrze, south west Poland, 10 October 2017. [EPA-EFE/ANDRZEJ GRYGIEL]

This article is part of our special report A renewed Europe: Innovation in technology industries.

In his 2017 State of the Union to the European Parliament, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker introduced a new Industrial Policy Strategy. Its aim, he said, was to help the EU’s industries become “world leaders in innovation, digitisation and decarbonisation.”

Two years later, as we approach the conclusion of the Juncker Commission, have the EU’s industries managed to take centre stage in the wider global economy? With the EU elections taking place in May and a new Commission towards the end of the year, along with political instability hitting the bloc and challenges arising from populism and nationalism, how well will EU industry cope?

The EU’s Industry Days taking place this week aim to examine the key industrial questions affecting Europe, from sustainability to digitalisation, from investment to globalisation, and essentially, whether Juncker’s pledge in 2017 ever came to fruition, in the context of Europe’s standing in the world today.

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Long-term strategy

On Monday (4 February), Orgalim published their Vision 2030 strategy, calling for the EU to step up its game in a number of sectors, with particular attention to fostering innovative technologies across the bloc’s industries.

Vision 2030 comprises a series of imperatives that they believe “will determine whether or not the potential of Europe’s technology industries to help reinvigorate the European way can be realised.”

“I don’t think you can fulfil a promise like that [Juncker’s in 2017] in a year or two,” Malte Lohan, Director General at Orgalim, told EURACTIV.

“For us, the issue is strategic – the EU is entering an uncertain period, and this is the same for the industrial sector,” he added.

“It’s not fair to judge Juncker after a period of only two years. We need a long-term strategy.”

Orgalim advocate for a three-pronged approach for an EU industrial vision for the future: Ensuring that technological innovation is at the centre of Europe’s industries, that the EU can lead the rest of the world with long-term global leadership, and that the bloc is able to set global standards to address the societal challenges of our time.

Industry has a well-established and respected standing in the EU. According to the Commission, the sector has been witness to a 60% productivity growth, and accounts for two million enterprises and thirty-three million jobs.

At the same time, new and burgeoning technologies are set to transform the EU’s industrial sector: with the onset of robotics, 3D printing, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, big data and more, there is ample scope for industry on the continent to take full advantage of the coming technological revolution, which, as estimates put it, could inject over €100 billion in annual revenue to the European economy over the next five years.

In terms of digitisation, the EU faces tough competition from abroad, and small and medium sized businesses have often found themselves caught up in in a global trade hustle between East and West.

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Fourth Industrial Revolution

However, the Commission have started to make ground in the pursuit of what they call the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution.’ In April 2016, the EU launched the Digitising European Industry initiative (DEI), which comprised five areas of importance that would assist the EU’s future technological advances in the industrial sector.

The measures put forward in 2016 featured initiatives such as boosting investments through strategic partnerships and networks, as well as moving towards a more harmonised collaboration in national initiatives for the digitisation of industry.

Priority areas for the digitalisation of industry were also put forward – including the comprehensive rolling out of 5G communication network and effective cybersecurity legislation.

“The industrial revolution of our time is digital,” Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip said on announcement of the Digital Industry Initiative.

“As companies aim to scale up across the Single Market, public e-services should also meet today’s needs: be digital, open and cross-border by design. The EU is the right scale for the digital times.”

The 2016 measures put aside €50 billion worth of investment for the digitisation of industry. Moreover, Horizon 2020, the EU’s Research and Innovation programme covering the years 2014 to 2020, sought to broaden out from the digitisation of the industry, to focus on areas such as Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies (LEIT), such as Key Enabling Technologies (KET), with the aim of boosting competitiveness, creating jobs and supporting growth.

Meanwhile, Orgalim’s Vision 2030 states that that putting innovation at the centre of the EU’s industrial strategy is vital to ensuring that the above benchmarks are met in the long-term.

Vision 2030 says that appropriate investments into innovative technologies must be pursued to their full so as to allow the EU to complete on the global stage, leadership should be taken in identifying long-term objectives, and societal challenges should be used as drivers of prosperity, rather than obstacles to growth.

“Our ambition is to shape a sustainable and long-term future,” Lohan said. “We don’t believe that it is necessarily about prioritising one area over another. If we want to become more sustainable as a continent then we need to ensure that our innovations are able to reach their peak.”

“Our goal is straightforward: we want to advance the objectives of the community by giving our industry the best possible opportunity to prosper globally,” he added.

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