Tajani leads charge in industrial renaissance

  • 2014-01-29
  • By Dorian Ziedonis, BRUSSELS

“We need to reduce the burden of bureaucracy” in the European Union to make it more attractive for foreign investors, said Vice-president of the European Commission Antonio Tajani at the conference ‘Boosting Industrial Competitiveness and Sustainability: For a business-friendly Europe’ in Brusselslast week.


Acknowledging that it is “not easy to invest in Europe” due to excessive red tape, the vice-president went on to discuss his proposals to push European industry forward, and into a new ‘Industrial Renaissance.’


This ‘Renaissance’ has as its ultimate goal to boost manufacturing’s role in the economy, from today’s 15 percent to 20 percent by 2020. An extremely difficult target indeed.


Tajani, speaking to a group of assembled journalists who were participating in the discussion arranged by EuropeanJournalismCenterand the EC DG Enterprise and Industry office on Jan. 21-22, proposes three lines of attack: first, money. More of it will be allocated to industrial policy, up to 100 billion euros from regional funds to promote industrial competitiveness. Additional money will come from the Horizon2020 program, for innovation and research.


Second, it is important to have “ideas in favor of industrial policy,” said Tajani; we “need to coordinate [this] policy.” He also stressed that there is need for a growth strategy, and that we need it “today.”


Third, he wants to “strengthen [policy] in the context of SMEs [small- and medium-sized enterprises],” where new rules will be proposed “against red tape.” One example given was that across the EU, it should be possible to start a company though a 3-day registration period, with only 100 euros in capital. Another: patent approvals should take only 30 days; the system should be simplified.


A key part of the strategy will revolve around increasing energy efficiency. “For competitive industry we need a policy on energy, shale. [One that offers] new and more modern ideas,” said Tajani.


“It is not easy to compete with the USA, with its shale gas [advantage],” he warned, calling for a single energy policy for Europe. This would work together with a well-integrated internal market in energy supply and distribution.


Highlighting the need for a single energy policy, the minister called attention to the complex energy supply network outside Europe’s borders. “The problem is not only with Russia, [as] Gazprom is important. [There is] Libya… There are many solutions,” said Tajani.


But the bottom line, for the bureaucrat, is jobs. “Markets are important, but it is jobs that are the target.” And driving job growth, asserts Tajani, is industry: “Industry is good. [It means] more jobs. Why should [European companies] go to Russia, outside [the EU]? It’s not only about money, but values. [I’m] against this.” Europe’s industry should keep jobs in Europe, he clearly stated.


With a focus on small European companies, he stressed that “Industry is not traditional large enterprises, but SMEs.” European companies “can stand on their own, some need to cluster, some need the EU’s help. [We] have to push SMEs, to better organize themselves, [to enter] foreign markets. Twenty-six percent of SMEs work outside of their home market. This isn’t good enough.”


What Tajani also proposes, in order to support European SMEs, is better access to finance, to fund expansion and R&D. He also includes access to raw materials as a key element to industrial competitiveness. This goes together with his interest in “studying and opening new markets, in South America, Africa, the U.S., Asia.”


The EU is now working towards these goals as it progresses on free trade agreements with the U.S., Japan, India and Canada.


“We want economic diplomacy, economic missions to these new markets.”


Vice-president Tajani has set his, and Europe’s, sights high, targeting a resurgence in industrial competitiveness. This comes with an understanding and respect for manufacturing’s key role in an economy’s source of jobs, product development and innovation. Success is vital in order for Europeto keep up with other manufacturing strongholds including the U.S., China and Japan.