MEPs and NGOs give mixed response to Commission’s new Industrial Strategy

The wide-ranging plan, already postponed twice, is a flagship EU policy which aims to give Europe’s ailing economies a much-needed post-pandemic boost.
European Commission Audiovisual: Valdis Dombrovskis, Margrethe Vestager, Thierry Breton

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

06 May 2021

The initial response to the newly unveiled Strategy varied, with Parliament’s biggest political group saying the plan “leaves much to be desired” while the Greens said the plan “is not the engine that drives the EU forward.”

Called the “2020 New Industrial Strategy: Building a stronger Single Market for Europe’s recovery”, the Commission said the plan seeks to “learn lessons” from the COVID-19 crisis, strengthen the EU’s “economic resilience” and accelerate the transition to climate neutrality and the digital age.

As promised by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in her State of the Union address to MEPs last year, the proposal is an update on the one-year-old industrial strategy.

Publication of the new plan had been delayed by the Coronavirus crisis.

The Commission says that in tabling the proposal it is responding to EU leaders’ demands for a more ambitious European industrial policy.

The executive says the SME “dimension” is at the core of the new strategy, with plans to appoint European Central Bank vice president Vazil Hudak, a Slovak national, as its ‘SME Envoy.’

At Wednesday’s launch, EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, responsible for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age, said the strategy “is about making sure our industries are equipped to drive the digital and green transformations of our economy while ensuring the competitiveness of our industries.”

“Unfortunately, the strategy leaves much to be desired. It has not matured enough … There should have been much more planning. The 7-year EU budget programmes have started, but we still don't have clear plans upon which we can structure our spending” Christian Ehler, EPP

Her colleague, Valdis Dombrovskis, responsible for an Economy that Works for People, agreed, adding, “As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, our updated strategy aims to leverage Europe’s position as a global industrial leader in order to provide a competitive edge in digital and green technologies.”

MEPs were quick to respond, with German member Christian Ehler, EPP spokesman on the industry committee, saying, “We are happy that this update is finally here because we need a clear plan now on how our industry is going to recover and manage the green and digital transitions at the same time.”

But he added, “Unfortunately, the strategy leaves much to be desired. It has not matured enough. It is true that initial analyses have been made and the first steps setting out plans for specific ecosystems and sectors have been taken. But there should have been much more planning.”

“The 7-year EU budget programmes have started, but we still don't have clear plans upon which we can structure our spending.”

The deputy added, “Having said that, we welcome the continued ecosystems approach and we are happy to see additional ambition on industrial alliances. The strategy also sets out a balanced and informed approach to international collaboration which we will follow carefully as it requires policy responses on a case-by-case basis.”

“This is good and important progress, which we welcome. The strategy also pays attention to the particular position of SMEs in our industry.”

German Greens/EFA member Michael Bloss, shadow rapporteur for the industrial strategy in the same committee, said, “What the Commission has presented today will not be the engine that drives the EU ahead in the global race towards a climate-neutral world.”

“As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, our updated strategy aims to leverage Europe’s position as a global industrial leader in order to provide a competitive edge in digital and green technologies”

EU Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis

“The Commission must not leave innovation for emission-free building materials and clean energy to other parts of the world. The latest batteries, solar plants and climate-neutral chemistry should be prioritised as technologies that can give the EU a competitive edge on the global market.”

“The steel, cement and chemical industries have long since realised that emission-free production is their chance to compete internationally,” he added.

Elsewhere, the business and NGO community were also split on the strategy, with BusinessEurope president Pierre Gattaz saying, “We appreciate the Commission did this important stock taking exercise to update its strategy. After more than a year of COVID-19 crisis, it is clear that the recovery will still take time and continued support to European industry and companies is needed more than ever.”

“The Commission must tailor measures for climate neutrality and digital transition with the main objective to generate growth.”

“The work on industrial alliances at EU level is crucial to develop large-scale and cross-border industrial projects in strategic fields, where the market alone does not deliver. These industrial alliances together with Important Projects of Common European Interest are key to pool public-private investments. We support the Commission to further improve the rules for these IPCEIs.”

SMEunited president Alban Maggiar said the plan included “some important concerns” of SMEs, including strengthening and reinforcing the single market and “reducing dependencies” from other economies.

He said, “The current crisis has proven again how important a well-functioning Single Market is and that freedom of movement cannot be taken for granted. An effective implementation and enforcement of common rules has to make it more robust and fairer, especially for SMEs.”

“The Commission must not leave innovation for emission-free building materials and clean energy to other parts of the world. The latest batteries, solar plants and climate-neutral chemistry should be prioritised as technologies that can give the EU a competitive edge on the global market”

Michael Bloss, Greens/EFA

“Further efforts to tackle the problem of late payments and the new initiative to address the solvency risk of SMEs are much appreciated in these challenging times.”

Doreen Fedrigo, climate and industry policy coordinator at Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, said the Strategy “leaves the door open to unproven decarbonising technologies that could allow industry to remain on its polluting path.”

Fedrigo said, “We have an agreed EU climate target to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030, but science tells us we need to cut emissions by at least 65 percent to reach the 1.5°C target, and the Industrial Strategy must fit in this climate ambition picture.”

“Industry cannot continue to pollute while betting on promises of future technological developments. An accelerated climate transition for European industry should address the need to curb emissions now, as the easiest to remove emissions are the ones that we do not produce.”

“We have to cut emissions through circularity as much as through fuel shifts, not focus on end-of-pipe solutions like capturing carbon.”

More reaction came from Vodafone Group External Affairs Director Joakim Reiter, who told this website, “The pandemic has proven just how critical reliable connectivity is to Europe and has uncovered strains on supply chains that must be alleviated. Vodafone welcomes today’s EU Industrial Strategy review which seeks to address this.”

“To help set Europe on the path to recovery and resilience, we encourage policymakers to do three things. First, ensure we have the right legal framework to nurture deployment of infrastructure. Second, release state aid to ensure high-capacity networks can be accessed by all.”

“Third, ensure policy promotes a more diverse supply chain for 5G, helping realise the full potential of SMEs, OpenRAN and the Internet of Things (IoT).”

Dirk Vantyghem, of EURATEX, the body which represents the European textile and clothing industry, noted, “The European textiles and clothing industry went through turbulent times. As part of this new strategy, we have an opportunity to build a new business model, based on innovation, quality, sustainability and fairness.”

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