SPECIAL REPORT / Efforts to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas must be intensified even if it means raising energy prices, European business leaders have said.
More than two thirds of respondents (72%) of a survey, conducted by EURACTIV and the European Business Summit, agreed that action had to be taken to prevent Russia holding the EU to ransom by threatening to turn off the tap. But more than half (57%) said that enlargement should not be offered to Ukraine or other countries of Europe in the east and south.
The European Union is set to step up pressure on Russia today (12 May) by taking a first cautious step towards extending sanctions to companies, as well as people, linked to Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region (see here).
The poll of about 200 employees of businesses, federations, European institutions, consultancies and media outlets was commissioned ahead of the European Business Summit (14-15 May) in Brussels. The summit attracts more than 1,500 delegates from more than 60 countries every year.
This year’s theme is Rebuilding a Competitive Europe and, with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso giving the keynote speech the speakers, the survey was a chance to review the achievements of his administration.
60% of those polled agreed that the European economy was recovering but more than three quarters said EU leaders had failed to tackle unemployment and especially youth unemployment.
Asked if the right steps had been taken to tackle the issue, more than three quarters of respondents said they had not. 43% disagreed and 33% strongly disagreed that the right steps had been taken.
Despite this, 70% of respondents agreed that the EU should be in the driving seat of comprehensive industrial policy to deliver growth and jobs.
Those surveyed were asked how the overall policy environment for business in Europe had changed over the last five years. Just 2% said the environment had improved greatly. About a third (32%) said it had improved, and a similar number said it had stayed roughly the same. Nearly a quarter (24%) said the policy environment for business has got worse and 9% said it had got much worse.
A multi-speed Europe trading internationally
A majority, (60%), backed a “multi-speed” Europe made up of a more integrated euro zone inside a wider common market. 22% strongly agreed with the idea, with 38% agreeing. 12% strongly disagreed.
For many, the financial crisis highlighted the necessity of more centralised banking powers to govern the euro area and guarantee its stability. The countries share a currency, but important regulatory powers and financial safety nets are administered at national level. During the height of the crisis, many governments were unable to reintroduce financial stability, and this rippled across the euro area. A closer banking union is deemed to be the solution.
This is widely accepted by all member states, including non-euro nations. Those countries were not prepared to enter into closer banking union with the euro countries, making a multi-speed Europe necessary.
While about half (53%) of respondents said that Europe was “extremely important” to their business or organisation, nearly two thirds (74%) agreed that international trade was a possible solution for boosting growth in Europe.
56% agreed that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is an important step in developing a world trade system. 27% were not convinced. TTIP is a proposed trade agreement being negotiated by the European Union and the United States that should make it simpler to buy and sell goods between the EU and US.
The slogan for next week’s European Parliament elections is “This time it’s different.” A third (32%) of those polled agreed with the slogan, 26% disagreed. 19% strongly agreed with 13% strongly disagreeing with the slogan. This year’s elections are the first where the European parties have put forward lead candidates, making the elections a de facto race for the presidency of the commission.
Horizon 2020 report card
When asked if Europe, from broadband to Horizon 2020, has the right policy framework to create a digital economy, respondents were unconvinced.4 0% disagreed (13% strongly disagreed), compared to 33% who agreed. 26% of respondent had no opinion whatsoever. Horizon 2020 is the EU’s flagship initiative to enhance its global competitiveness through research and innovation.
Policymakers have been vocal about the need to create a digital economy to get Europe back to growth. The app economy workforce is predicted to triple its revenues from €17.5 billion to €63 billion from 2013 to 2018. That translates to 4.8 million jobs by 2018, according to the EU executive.
Public-private partnerships were identified by 30% of respondents as the most important method for financing innovation, with a quarter (24%) identifying public money as the most influential. A second generation of private public partnerships between consortiums of business and the EU institutions were rubberstamped by the European Council last week (here).
More than half (53%) of survey respondent said that the commission and member states had not properly tackled the skills shortages in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
37% of those answering the poll came from the business world, 19% from consultancies, 9% from the European institutions, 15% from federations, and 20% from the media. Most were aged 20-30 (34%) and two thirds were male. 28% were aged between 31-40, 15% were 51-60, 18% were 41-50 years-old and 5% were 61%.