The European Commission has set out a series of comprehensive plans to revolutionise the bloc’s industrial sector, with a heavy interest in developing key technologies with ‘strategic importance’, including measures to go ‘beyond 5G’ and ‘towards 6G.’
A document leaked to EURACTIV, entitled Building block for a comprehensive industrial strategy, outlines several key areas for developing the EU’s industries in a sustainable manner, while also protecting competitiveness and innovation.
On next-generation mobile technologies, the document cites a “strategic European partnership” on research and innovation in the field of “smart networks and services beyond 5G/towards 6G,” which involves member states to reinforce their “European leadership in network technologies.”
Meanwhile, new standards will be introduced for technologies including the “Internet of Things, robotics, nanotechnologies, microelectronics, 5G, high-performance computing, quantum computing, and critical digital and data cloud infrastructure.”
Digital Services Act
With regards to the EU’s forthcoming Digital Services Act, the bloc’s ambitious plans to regulate the online ecosystem, the document outlines areas likely to face action, including the dissemination of illegal content, lack of transparency in online advertising, and reinforcing regulatory oversight in an effective yet ‘Single-market friendly’ manner.
The document also cites the recently leaked draft white paper on Artificial Intelligence, saying that data will be a valuable resource in the EU’s future AI strategy.
“The rising importance of the data economy (including data ownership), requires setting up an appropriate legal framework, which encourages and facilitates the sharing of non-personal data (with safeguard for commercially sensitive data) while fully respecting data protection standards,” the paper writes.
“The availability of data is a prerequisite for a broad uptake of digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence and blockchain.”
More broadly on the EU’s AI strategy, “a regulatory framework” will be introduced that includes questions on liability, accountability, transparency and safety, in a flexible manner that is “able to respond to future emerging technologies.”
The Commission blueprint also promises legislation “in support of fully digital processes at the border and closer cooperation between customs and other regulatory authorities in order to facilitate trade while enhancing the protection of the Union.”
That could, belatedly, encourage Boris Johnson’s UK government to believe that so-called ‘alternative arrangements’ can be utilised to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Ensuring a level playing field in investments
The document mentions that the EU will work toward levelling the global playing field by addressing distortions of competition by third countries and their companies and finding the “right balance between protection and openness”.
The EU will ensure reciprocity of market access for EU companies through trade and investment agreements, it says. “The International Procurement Instrument will allow the EU to gain leverage in negotiations to open third country procurement markets”.
When it comes to the level playing field within the single market, the Commission says the EU will create new instruments if necessary and use “trade defence mechanisms robustly”.
Particularly, the EU executive mulls an instrument on foreign subsidies “addressing the distortive effects of non-EU state subsidies” in the single market.
It also suggests limiting procurement in the context of EU-funded projects to bidders from third countries with reciprocal level of market access and addressing the impact of foreign subsidies in public tenders.
Linking defence and space policies
The draft document also calls on policymakers to improve the link between EU defence and space policies.
“Space and defence technologies are interrelated. Defence industry relies on space-enabled services such as global positioning, satellite communication or earth observation.”
“Space industry actors are also defence technology and capability providers and share some common characteristics […] they require public research and development spending to maintain expertise and industrial capabilities, in particular in critical technologies,” the document reads.
The document also warns that both industries face rising global competition in terms of AI and Internet of Things.
“By seeking synergies and cross-fertilisation between space and defence in EU programmes, the EU should make more effective use of resources and technologies and create economies of scale”.
Pharmaceutical strategy and health data space
When it comes to health, the Commission bets on two main drivers for a wider uptake of innovative products and digital healthcare services: a new EU pharmaceutical strategy and the creation of a European common health data space.
The focus of the new strategy would be on finding the right balance between availability, affordability and need to ensure the security of the supply, which were all already listed at the very top of Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides mission letter.
Obligations for market launch and continuous supply of products will be reviewed to address shortage and unmet medical needs, as well as the system of incentives to support need-driven innovation for patients and fair competitions, including for generics and biosimilars.
However, access and affordability of pharmaceuticals to meet Europe’s needs should not affect the European pharmaceutical industry’s status of the world leader in innovation, while financial and other instruments will be deployed to strengthen the EU’s manufacturing capacity.
More controversial is the reference to the European common health data space for its privacy implications, as it will also deal with codes of conduct on secondary use of data in healthcare and individuals access to their health data.
On the Commission’s radar is also the support for the development of smart health products, supporting the testing of cost-effective innovation in health, but also the training of people working in healthcare.
Industry’s climate and transport role
The Commission’s industry musings insist that the strategy “will be one of the main drivers contributing to the objective of a climate-neutral economy by 2050”, which most member states agreed to in December.
Senior officials in the previous EU executive, who kicked off work on the new strategy, outlined to EURACTIV that the climate strategy will essentially not work without an adequate industrial equivalent.
To that end, the Commission intends to make extended forays into hard-to-decarbonise areas, outlining its intention to “develop and demonstrate breakthrough technologies for clean steel” through public-private partnerships.
Hydrogen technology is also set for a boost, through what the Commission calls “an ‘alliance’ with member states and industry”. EU climate boss Frans Timmermans recently said that he sees a “pivotal role” for the clean fuel in Europe’s green efforts.
The strategy also cites so-called Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI) as a possible vehicle for investment in hydrogen. France recently got the green light for a multi-billion euro battery IPCEI, which means the most stringent state aid rules will not apply.
As expected, a new circular economy plan is on the way, including a possible revision of eco-design and energy labelling. A review of the outdated Batteries Directive is also on the cards.
In transport policy, the draft plan confirms von der Leyen’s pledge to adopt a strategy for sustainable and smart mobility, which Commission sources say will be ready later this year. It also mentions the #rechargeEU initiative on boosting electric vehicle charging points.
But it also seems that the new EU executive will scale back its efforts to promote WiFi in the connected cars sector, as the strategy reveals it will “step up efforts to build 5G mobility infrastructure”.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]