The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in Europe’s economic landscape, notably regional inequalities, skills gaps and risks to the single market and supplies of strategic goods. In the light of these lessons, the European Commission has updated its blueprint for a greener, more digital and competitive industrial landscape, the New Industrial Strategy for Europe.
In a report on the updates, the EESC calls for all groups involved in Europe’s economy to shape its future, from trade unions, industry and SMEs to other civil society organisations and public authorities. It adds that competitiveness cannot be the only indicator of a viable long-term strategy. Indicators must also measure social inclusion, working conditions and environmental sustainability.
“Manufacturing faces fierce global competition. Europe needs to focus its efforts on providing a socio-economic and ecologic framework that enables innovation and productivity,” explains Sandra Parthie, rapporteur of the main EESC opinion.
“Health is at the centre of the new international geopolitical context and crucially contributes to EU’s industrial strategic autonomy,” says Anastasis Yiapanis, the opinion’s rapporteur. “For this reason, we call on the Commission to continue collaboration and dialogue between stakeholders.”
Businesses, workers, civil society organisations and public authorities all have a role in shaping industry to be more competitive and innovative, the EESC argues. The current industrial strategy focuses on business, but it is imperative to include the insights of social partners in designing the goals, targets and indicators needed for successful change.
In addition, a broader set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is needed than in the proposed Strategy. Measures of competitiveness, such as investment, are not enough, the EESC believes. KPIs must also promote social wellbeing and sustainable growth if Europe’s industries are to be truly sustainable.
Important areas to measure are the impacts of working and production conditions on both society and the environment, as well as the quality of jobs. As the Commission observes, young people, women and workers in precarious employment were hit hardest in the crisis. For a transition that leaves no-one behind, KPIs should assess how well everyone can access decent work.
Another set of indictors should assess the shift to a “no-waste” circular economy to maintain access to resources and conserve the climate on which we depend. Finally, factors that cut across all industries, like R&D investment, should also be monitored to ensure that companies and jobs have long lifespans.
Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEIs) are EU-wide projects that support the development of innovations crucial to the green and digital transitions. The EESC argues that first, the know-how of workers’ organisations is needed to implement these projects well. Second, IPCEIs must be assessed for the value and jobs they create and for the skills workers and businesses need for the modernised industries.
Standards are another important instrument to re-establish European leadership in industrial production, in the EESC’s view. The Committee insists that the standards developed by European companies should not just be spread by companies themselves: the Commission should be behind them and help disseminate them too.
The supplementary opinion looks at how to the strategy could improve access to fairer and better coordinated healthcare in Europe. This would support the economy, healthcare innovation and a good quality of life for Europeans. It would also reduce Europe’s reliance on imported healthcare supplies and allow the EU to forge ahead with flagship policies, for example to reduce waste.
The EESC calls for a similar approach to optimise healthcare policy in the Industrial Strategy.
The EESC recommends a focus on governance, diversification of supply and digital healthcare, which are all connected. Better-run businesses would allow the single market to operate more smoothly, fostering new businesses. In turn, an increased number of producers would make access to healthcare goods and services more reliable, as would incentives to bring manufacturing of essential materials and products back to Europe.
Measures to enable digital healthcare systems that work between organisations and across borders would further strengthen the single market for the industry and improve care. For the same reasons, the EESC calls for action to boost synergies between public and private sectors, large companies and SMEs and investments in R&D and training of all workers connected to healthcare.