A thing or two about competitiveness and innovation

Brussels will give centre stage to the importance of Europe’s innovative manufacturing industry this week, mounting the second ‘EU Industry Days’ with seminars, workshops and announcements of several important initiatives from the side of the European Commission. What can be expected, and what more could be done?

Commission President Juncker’s ‘white paper’ on the future of Europe stirred positive expectations last year and was highly welcomed by industry at large. Juncker expressed the ambition to “make our industry stronger and more competitive” and “help our industries stay or become the world leader in innovation”.

The first ‘EU Industry Days’, held in February 2017, then made a tangible effort to revive interest in a coordinated European industrial policy and produce some answers. The resulting call for action focussed on three essential areas: fostering rule-based trade, investing in people and skills, and mastering the newest technologies. In autumn, the Commission’s Renewed EU Industrial Policy Strategy followed, wrapping up the several initiatives the Commission had already announced in this field.

The crucial question, today, is how to drive momentum forward. Member States clearly take the long view, as expressed in the recent Competitiveness Councils. Ministers discussed how to go beyond what was already proposed, citing that the necessity to do so is urgent. Signals are that Member States will urge the next European Commission (2019-2024) to put industrial policy at the heart of their work. The 2018 Bulgarian and Austrian EU presidencies are keeping the wheel spinning with groundwork on value chain analysis and economic indicators.

Importantly, the crucial role of Research, Development and Innovation (RD&I) to boost industrial leadership is fully recognised by Commission and Council. Europe’s future competitiveness and sustainable growth depend on RD&I: two-thirds of economic growth in Europe is linked to RD&I activity. Yet, RD&I intensity is much lower in Europe than in countries like the US, Japan or South-Korea. Reaching the EU’s objective of 3% GDP expenditure on R&D, which would underpin the EU objective to reach an industry share of 20% in Europe’s GDP, will require additional spending.

CLEPA is a convinced co-signatory of the joint declaration, published today together with key other industry associations. The paper calls on the European institutions to develop the next EU Research & Innovation Framework Programme (FP9) with great ambition in terms of both choices and budget, in order to shape the European RD&I ecosystem for the future. In the same spirit, CLEPA is an active contributor to the broad industry coalition that published recommendations, in October last year, under the tagline ‘Going Further’.

Sustainable industrial policy, however, is also forward-looking in another sense: to anticipate and manage change, especially for those who live it every day on the shop floor. CLEPA will participate in the EU Industry Days’ panel discussion on Thursday titled “Managing change in industry” to describe how the automotive industry both faces as well as shapes the impact of the two major trends of today, digitalisation and decarbonisation. It’s a deep transformation that needs to be mastered in partnership, with policy makers, social partners, citizens and industry all playing their parts.

With over 20 billion euro of annual investment, automotive suppliers are among the biggest private investors in R&D in Europe. They register over 3000 patents each year. Over 75% of the value of a vehicle comes from its parts, components and systems, covering everything from propulsion technology, to braking, interior, lighting and electronics. Suppliers know a thing or two about the need for, and impact of, innovation and competitiveness to stay ahead of the curve.


Sigrid de Vries

Secretary General


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