Bie?kowska: ‘Our policies have to be overhauled’

El?bieta Bie?kowska

El?bieta Bie?kowska [European Commission]

This article is part of our special report An industrial policy for Europe ?.

SPECIAL REPORT: The Polish Commissioner responsible for industry is set to launch new proposals for an industrial strategy early next year. She tells EURACTIV that the new approach must be concrete and that the overriding aim must be to promote the competitiveness of European industry.

El?bieta Bie?kowska is Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs. She spoke to EURACTIV’s Jeremy Fleming.

What is your personal vision of industrial policy?

Industrial policy has to be built on knowledge. We must understand the challenges industry faces, member state-by-member state, sector-by-sector. Then, we have to know what we can do as well as understanding what we cannot do. Our policy intervention should target issues and remove barriers where the economic impact is the greatest. Equally, we have to recognise where government action is not needed and have the courage to step back where we are not helping.

Industrial policy should play on Europe’s strengths. We have high levels of education, centres of industrial and academic excellence. We have strong legal systems, an internal market of 510 million people, and low levels of corruption.

Only by bringing the EU back to the path of economic growth will we have credibility as an international actor; only by bringing the EU back to the path of job creation will we gain legitimacy in front of the EU citizens. Ultimately, our aim must be to create the high-value, well rewarded jobs which are within our reach.

Industrial policy cannot be abstract. It cannot be a set of aspirations without knowing how we can achieve them. Whatever we aim to achieve must be based on concrete actions that we can carry out quickly. And promoting competitiveness, which is the over-arching aim of industrial policy, must be woven into the fabric of all policy areas, at all levels of government.

How do you see the continuation of the Commission’s industrial strategy going?

The Juncker Commission will take a fresh look at things. We will not hesitate to drop initiatives if we are not fully convinced of their added value, nor are we afraid to approach things differently. This is why we decided to take a little more time to produce our plan of actions to support industry which the European Council has asked for. Our actions over the next year, indeed over the next five years, cannot be “business as usual”. We are emerging very slowly from a long and deep recession, at a time when much of the world has been recovering strongly. Clearly our policies have to be overhauled. In fact, we need to help EU industry to leap to the new era of the industrial economy, characterised by smart and clean production, and products.

What is the next key landmark in devising a new industrial strategy?

Early in 2015 I will present actions to support the competitiveness of European industry. I will come forward with concrete proposals for industrial projects. They will foster digitalisation and resource- and energy efficiency of industries. They will transform them into smart and clean industries. These projects will support the second pillar of the investment package. The projects will make finance reach the real economy.

I will also deliver on the third pillar of the investment package. We need to improve the investment environment by removing non-financial barriers in key industrial sectors. Investment in new manufacturing technologies in smart and clean industries will not happen if the regulatory framework at EU level is not conducive to growth.

I believe that the result will be a robust, comprehensive and coherent strategy, resulting from teamwork within the Commission and close co-operation with the Vice-Presidents.

How does industrial strategy fit in with the investment plan?

The investment plan is about giving enterprises the investment and the business environment they need to kick-start recovery. Industrial policy is about making sure that we have the businesses able to build on that investment, capable of continued growth and prosperity when the investment plan comes to an end.

What needs to be done to beef up the internal market?

My mandate is broad and I have been given one of the most powerful tools of the EU, in the shape of the internal market.

It is no accident that the internal market is the first of the tasks I have been asked to focus on.

The internal market for services and goods has been an engine of European growth since its creation, but it is very much work in progress. I expect to be very busy opening bottlenecks and removing barriers.

In today’s economy the separation between goods and services is blurring: automotive manufacturers offer insurance and finance, on-line booksellers also make smartphones. This trend is set to continue. That is why I shall be pressing for urgent action to identify and eliminate remaining barriers to free circulation of goods and services, and to ensure a fair and trusted internal market.

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