As the European elections take place this weekend, I remain anxious hearing all of the rhetoric. Europe is suffering from 'myeuropia', a word I invented meaning short-sighted and blurry vision as to what Europe can and should do for itself and its citizens.
Regardless of the outcome, the 'vainqueurs' need to take heed of the messages coming from the electorate in member states. Brussels is but a mirror and an imperfect one at best, of the divergent moods and attitudes of the voting public. I say voting public because obviously, the probable 50 per cent or more of those not voting are sending a message to Brussels.
The business community sadly does not get any voting rights but if it did, it would overwhelmingly vote for a restructured Europe, but Europe nonetheless. Business executives have loads of experience in preparing long-term strategies and relentlessly pursuing excellence in implementation. And the recent economic crisis gave them invaluable yet painful experience in restructuring. It is high time that the EU accept that the partnership with the business community is the only way forward, and that bashing of business provides little incentive to invest in Europe.
At the fourth annual conference of 'The State of the European Union' recently held at the Palais d'Egmont, senior executives passionately discussed and debated actionable solutions contributing to the enhancement of the European competitiveness and foreign investment attractiveness. Competitiveness and attractiveness are two themes that Insead and Ernest and Young regularly publish and set the context for the conference debate.
The corporate executives noted that Europe still retains a number of key strengths (innovation leadership, qualified skills, high-level of education, market diversity, scientific excellence, and infrastructure quality) but they also acknowledged that Europe still has many legacy issues which need to be addressed.
Executives at the conference proposed actions that the new European commission should consider and then presented them directly to commission president José Manuel Barroso. The first recommendation relates to growth. Europe must have an ICT and a life-science strategy as well as an ambitious and creative 'energy plan', considering the development of a balanced portfolio of energy sources, from renewables to shale gas.
"Europe needs more flexible labour markets to ensure higher increased access to job opportunities"
The second recommendation relates to talent. Europe needs more flexible labour markets to ensure higher increased access to job opportunities. To do so, the priority is to identify the job needs by sector and geographical area at the European level. Developing relevant apprenticeships is vital. This could be coordinated by the creation of an employment agency at the European level. In order to facilitate mobility, participants recommended a European identification number allocation for all citizens.
The third recommendation relates to competitiveness. One easy and fast way to improve competitiveness is to improve governance. In this context, the main recommendation would be to keep the 28 commissioners but group them into the 5 following clusters: macro-economy; industry, services and digitalisation; energy/environment; home affairs; and external relations.
The fourth recommendation relates to innovation. By encouraging financing start-ups in the digital and life sciences industries, executives propose the creation of pan-European venture capital funds, which multinationals could help finance. Europe should also create three innovation zones of excellence and a European patent system more accessible to start-ups and SMEs.
"Foreign investors will publicly and actively promote Europe if the next commission commits to create a genuine 'invest in Europe' organisation"
The last recommendation relates to the marketing of Europe. Foreign investors will publicly and actively promote Europe if the next commission commits to create a genuine 'invest in Europe' organisation. Europe also needs to engage youth and make better use of social media for reinforcing its credibility.
The new EU leadership which will drive forward a future agenda must exchange their rose-coloured lenses for corrective lenses that allow them to see what is really going on in the economy. Without the support of the business community, Europe will not move forward. As Asia continues to enjoy comfortable growth and the US has clearly exited its multi-year economic downturn, the message to European politicians is quite clear to me.
Now is the time to drive for consensus around a limited number of priorities, and get buy-in from both national and EU leadership teams and turn 'myeuropia' into a 2020 vision.