Europe’s industrial sector has long been the engine for the sustainable growth of its economy and the main contributor to job creation. It is well known how industry consolidated innovation and markets, with workers training for decades and yielding a high added value.
In the late 70s and early 80s, a deindustrialisation process began, resulting in different outcomes across the member states. In southern Europe in particular, the industrial basis was lost, both in terms of magnitude and diversity.
Today, industry accounts for 15 per cent of Europe’s GDP - less than 2008 figures and far from the 20 per cent goal set in the Europe 2020 strategy. Some new initiatives and funds were introduced, but because of a lack of funding and public investment, they weren’t enough to remedy this situation.
Last July, Parliament underlined the lack of clear new objectives and actions in the long-term vision presented in the new EU’s new industrial policy strategy. Ahead of the second EU Industry Day, the European Left urges more efforts on the Europe 2020 strategy goals.
We have long been calling for a European industrial strategy that safeguards industries and employment. We are not alone in this. European trade unions (ETUC) have set a reindustrialisation plan within their ‘A New Path for Europe’ campaign, supporting initiatives for investment, sustainable growth and quality jobs.
Without urgent action, we face a complete transformation of the manufacturing, selling, and goods transport sectors. Beyond key topics such as strengthening the internal market and ensuring a global level playing-field, the future of European industry requires the EU institutions to strengthen several other aspects, such as levering the new ICT sectors’ growth potential to build integrated and stable value chains. Mass redundancies due to technological and economic disruptions must be avoided - these could trigger the decline of entire regions.
Therefore, action plans should be developed in order to monitor job losses and support job creation, to guarantee a just transition. The social dimension of the process must also be addressed in order to level the impact on jobs, skills gaps or worker-related data flows.
For the last four decades, public funding for industrial policy has been declining, even though it has been acknowledged that economies need an industrial sector to provide enough stable jobs.
Democracy needs citizens to have good, permanent jobs - that is how they obtain and retain the power to advance society.
European industrial development needs specific R&D and innovation targets. Further efforts are required to reach the R&D investment target of three per cent of EU GDP - this investment currently stands at 2.3 per cent. The EU needs a publicly-funded R&D framework if we want to anchor these achievements.
Publicly-owned and publicly-controlled firms in strategic industries have a key role to play in any future industry strategy. It’s time to reduce the pressure on public companies to privatise and a renewed ‘public good’ principle must regain a prominent position in Europe’s economic activities.
Finally, for industrial policy to be better integrated, we must foster social dialogues among the different sectors, so social partners can lay out a long-term vision for European industry governance, increasing ownership of the challenges for industrial policy among all stakeholders.
Supporting a robust manufacturing sector is supporting a robust Europe.This should be carried out step-by-step, with a win-to-win vision and coherent regional development.
We must strive for a production model centred on the industrial sector. Beyond speeches, an environmentally sustainable industrial sector must be set up this year with an adequate strategy and budget. This is the way towards a new industrial model.