Industry Pushes EU to Boost Competitiveness

24.02.2017 -

European industry is turning up the heat on the EU’s institutions to finally come up with a plan to help manufacturers become more competitive. In a joint paper, called the “Joint Declaration for an ambitious industrial strategy”, industry associations including the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), PlasticsEurope and European Plastics Converters as well as groupings  representing other branches of industry say “the time has come to sound the alarm” about the absence of concrete steps toward goals established years ago.

 At the beginning of his mandate in 2014, the declaration’s signatories recall, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker identified the reindustrialization of Europe as one of his top priorities and also confirmed the objective of increasing the share of industry in European GDP to 20% by 2020. However, words have not followed deeds, the industry representatives insist, and Europe’s manufacturing base continues to erode.

To turn the trend around, the paper’s backers say they are “ready to step up” their cooperation with the Commission, the European Parliament and the EU’s Competitiveness Council to define and implement an ambitious and coordinated European industrial strategy. European manufacturers have “tremendous capacity” for research and innovation and a skilled workforce, and they have earned a global reputation for quality and sustainability. What is needed now, they say, “is the swift and determined support of the European institutions and the member states to create more jobs and growth.”

During a lunch debate this week organized by CEFIC during the Competitiveness Council meeting in Brussels, Hariolf Kottmann, president of CEFIC and CEO of Swiss specialty chemicals producer Clariant, hammered the message home, telling the assembled representatives of member states that the EU is on the cusp of losing its hold as a major world industrial power. Other global regions are growing faster, he said, offering industries cheaper raw materials and feedstock and aggressively promoting their own chemical manufacturing.

“Europe's industries urgently need a clear signal from EU lawmakers, with favorable conditions to repatriate investment.” To help kick start action, CEFIC said it has decided to work on Council Conclusions in its May meeting to encourage the Commission to draft a new industrial policy.

“In times of political and economic uncertainty we need ambitious EU institutions and leaders who are willing to take bold decisions to restore and enhance Europe's competitiveness. The European chemical industry stands ready to support EU decision makers in this endeavor because we share a common goal – to secure a stable political framework and maintain a sustainable, competitive chemical industry in Europe,” he said.

Even if the industry’s pleas may not to have fallen on completely deaf ears in Brussels, it is not clear how long it will take the institutions to come up with any concrete action.  At the lunch debate, internal market commissioner, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, said she “personally supports” the idea for an overall European vision for industry, although she “cannot say” that there will be a new proposal from the EU. “Smart and innovative industry is extremely important for Europe, and we have to be in the avant-garde of developments. We need to keep industry and production here in Europe. We have to keep them as well as services.”

“Industrial competitiveness is one of the main objectives of our presidency,” Maltese Minister Chris Cardona commented. “We all know the transaction costs to operate in the European Union are high. We need to focus on areas that the presidency has already mentioned: the chemical industry, digitization of industry, logistics, access to finance, startups and scale-ups and the European defense action plan.”