The Future for the Europe we need

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Étienne Davignon [CRS Europe]

“No time for business as usual” was the motto repeated by key EU leaders recently when announcing the EU priorities for 2016. These words ring particularly true in today’s context, writes Étienne Davignon. 

Étienne Davignon is minister of state and the president of CSR Europe, the European business network for corporate social responsibility. 

With 21 million young people at risk of poverty and social exclusion in Europe, the ongoing refugee and migration crisis, youth unemployment reaching an astounding 4.6 million (with 40% unemployment peaks in many countries), economic growth largely taking place outside of the EU and the impact of the financial crisis still resonating, there is a pressing need for transformative and innovative societal and economic changes in Europe.

Despite all these challenges, often reinforced by daunting press headlines, we live in a time of unprecedented opportunity; opportunity for economic growth coupled with the possibility of rebuilding and transforming our societies to make our continent a better and more sustainable place to live in. Business does play a crucial, and often underestimated role, and should be ‘put to work’ to help policy makers and societies as they struggle through the ongoing challenges.

How do we realise this? We believe the answer is more collaboration. Our hyper-connected world requires unprecedented levels of collaboration to grapple with the major long-term issues of today’s Europe. Specifically, there are three core areas for action, which will create the collaboration environment that is so imperative to putting Europe on the right track.

Firstly, we need to make employability and inclusion a priority across boards, management and value chains. This can be achieved through public-private partnerships with educators, learning programmes to integrate migrants and refugees, creating a culture of entrepreneurship and encouraging innovation in the workplace.

Secondly, companies have to engage as committed partners with communities, cities and regions to develop and implement new sustainable production and consumption methods. Businesses have to rethink how and with whom they make products, how they sell them, and how to use resources along the way and operate in a more circular way. Many business champions have already developed circular business models leading to new opportunities and market leadership. But a transformative change in Europe requires all companies to further integrate environmental, social, ethical, transparency and good governance approaches into their strategies and to focus on creating shared value. This is the true contribution of corporate responsibility to a sustainable Europe.

Thirdly, one of the most pressing issues that Europe has to address is youth unemployment, which is reaching alarming levels. In August 2015 alone, 4.6 million young Europeans were unemployed, representing over 20% of the economically active population of under 25 year-olds. In order to stay competitive in the global market, we need to take full advantage of the skills and talent available in Europe. It is our responsibility to act and unlock this potential human capital. Businesses and the education sector need to open up to each other and collaborate to create opportunities for young people to help them throughout the transition into the labour market.

An embodiment of such a spirit of collaboration is the European Pact for Youth, recently co-founded by CSR Europe and the European Commission. The Pact envisages a series of commitments backed by major European businesses and aims to create a culture of partnerships between businesses, education establishments and young people in Europe. Such a culture is needed to build a pro-youth, pro-innovation Europe. The Pact will be launched in mid-November at the Enterprise 2020 Summit, we recognise that the challenge will be whether it can deliver on its promises within the next two years. This will be assessed at the end of 2017, but I urge businesses, governments, educators and young Europeans to take an interest now. Again, structured collaboration is key here and nothing will be achieved without it.

This is merely one example, but the opportunities are evident. Despite all the challenges facing Europe, the time to show true courage, leadership and statesmanship on sustainable and inclusive growth through collaboration is now. Europe can and must play an innovative and leading role in the implementation of collaborative models, such as this one, to reinvigorate growth and competitiveness for us and our grandchildren’s future. Europe must lead the way.

EURACTIV is Media Partner of the Enterprise 2020 Summit – The Future of Europe on 16-17 November 2015 in BOZAR, Brussels.

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