EBS recap: Leading in a changing world
Ensuring Europe prospers in an increasingly automated and digitally-focused world is one of the biggest challenges facing policymakers and businesses.
This was the message that emerged from the closing plenary session of the European Business Summit (EBS), held in Brussels late last month.
The event saw UK finance minister Phillip Hammond deliver a keynote speech in which he highlighted the “enduring shared values” of Europe as well as the “shared opportunities and challenges” that lie ahead post-Brexit.
Echoing this year’s EBS theme of ‘Leading in a changing world’, Hammond said that “bringing together leaders from both government and businesses”, to take part in the two day summit, came at an important and “increasingly uncertain” time for “our continent”.
He added that “While the global and European economies have recently enjoyed a period of relative strength, we cannot take this for granted”.
An “emboldened Russia” on Europe’s eastern doorstep, “escalating tensions” in the Middle-East, and “uncertainty” around US trade and tax reform were some of the “challenges we must confront if we are to deliver the security, prosperity and higher living standards for our citizens for which we all strive.”
He warned that, “governments across Europe are having to manage a rising tide of sentiment among our electorates, against the conventional wisdom of free trade, globalisation, and the benefits of the liberal market economy.”
However Hammond reassured the packed event that, “my message this afternoon is that there are significant shared opportunities too.”
One such opportunity, he said was the coming technological revolution, “a revolution that will shape people’s lives and have far-reaching implications for our economic model and will have a long-term impact on all our economies, far bigger in scale than the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union.”
Such profound change, he warned, would bring with it major challenges “such as evolving our tax and regulatory systems, our competition policies, so they are fit for the digital age and ensuring that our people have the skills they need to prosper in a world of increasing automation.”
But, he argued, convincing people of the benefits of technological change and the economic growth that can flow from it, particularly “at a time of unprecedented scepticism of our liberal market economic and political model, requires collaboration and cooperation. Our shared values and shared history go back far beyond our membership of the European Union and they will continue far beyond the timeframe of Brexit.”
Markus J. Beyrer, the Director General of the European employers and industry federation, BusinessEurope, agreed that there were many international uncertainties facing Europe and that the major challenge now was to find answers to alleviate those uncertainties.
Beyrer said he was hopeful that upcoming trade deals with Japan, Australia and New Zealand as well as potential new openings with Africa showed that there were opportunities as well as challenges.
“So the flip side is that we have opportunities out there and if we get things right, Europe could be at the centre of the largest free trade network the world has ever seen.”
On Brexit, Beyrer said he hoped the UK would stay in the single market and customs union, “but of course the future is still a bit blurred. Businesses wants a close relationship with the UK but at the same time we don’t want that to be at the expense of the single market. We need to find the right balance here, but time is running out.”
N.G, Subramanian the COO of Indian multinational Tata Consultancy Services said he had been fascinated at just how deeply many issues had been discussed at the various EBS sessions and panels.
“The policy debates and the discussions around issues such as diversity and digital technology just reinforce my belief that a strong foundation is being established. What I will take away from this conference the view that the opportunities exist”
Ken Hu, Rotating Chairman of technology giant Huawei said Europe had made “incredible progress” in its transformation towards a digital society.
“I appreciate what the chancellor said about the technical revolution and the importance of technology. Right now, the whole world is in the digital fast lane. We see tremendous opportunities as well as challenges ahead of us.”
However, warned Hu, investment is still a potential challenge with businesses looking for more market certainty.
“Technology providers like Huawei need to contribute their innovation to help carriers maximise returns on their existing investments in digital infrastructure. European governments can help telecom carriers address new investment challenges using regulatory tools to build a pro-investment environment.”
Despite many innovative digital advances, creating new and exciting applications, there needs to be more demand in Europe, said Hu.
“Only 20 per cent of European companies use eCommerce or cloud computing, while less than two per cent use digital technology to innovate in products or processes. Europe has a strong industrial base. We need to work together to build awareness of digital technology and how it can enhance human effort, improve quality, and multiply the value of traditional expertise.”
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