Putting technology at the heart of the future of Europe
8 March 2019
“We cannot talk about the future we want for Europe without talking about technology.” With these words, Orgalim Director General Malte Lohan shared the core message of European tech companies at this critical moment for the EU – while also encapsulating the theme of the event ‘An Industry Vision for a Renewed Europe’, co-hosted by Orgalim and the European Forum for Manufacturing (EFM) at the European Parliament on 6 March. Chaired by MEP Peter Kouroumbashev of the Industry, Research & Energy (ITRE) Committee, the roundtable and dinner debate provided a platform for policymakers and company representatives to discuss how technology made in Europe can shape a future that’s good for the EU and its citizens.
With parliamentary elections fast approaching, the moment is right to shine a spotlight on industry’s role in the future of Europe – and how the policy framework can help not only boost competitiveness but address critical societal challenges. The political will is there, as Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen outlined in his keynote address: “We want to empower European industry to embrace transformation and become world leaders – and that means embracing innovation, digitalisation and sustainability.”
We want to empower European industry to embrace transformation and become world leaders – and that means embracing innovation, digitalisation and sustainability
And engagement is key to set the course, through forums such as the Commission’s ‘Industry 2030’ High-Level Roundtable (HLRT). As Tomas Hedenborg – Orgalim President, CEO of Group FASTEMS and a HLRT member – explained: “An effective industrial strategy requires a holistic approach and close dialogue between industry and policy.”
But what does that mean for policy in concrete terms?
MEP Reinhard Bütikofer proposed four adjectives for an industrial strategy that could deliver on this vision: “digitally innovative, eco-efficient, socially responsible and truly European” – reflecting closely the priorities put forward in Orgalim’s ‘2030: an industry vision for a renewed Europe’.
Embracing digital innovation
The evening’s discussions dove deeper into these priorities, beginning with the need to embrace digital innovation and transformation. Dieter Wegener, Vice President at Siemens, and Christophe Lautray, Managing Director of Linde Material Handling, shared real-world examples of how digital tech is already helping European industry reach new heights, from fully digitalised factories to AI-powered logistics enabling e-commerce. Mr Wegener summed up what’s needed to enable the “lean and green factories” of tomorrow: societal trust, skills development, a transparent data economy, high-performance digital infrastructure, an innovation-friendly regulatory framework.
Answering social challenges
The conversation around an “eco-efficient and socially responsible” industrial policy got straight to the heart of a vision for the future where technology transforms societal challenges into drivers of prosperity – from the clean energy transition and resource efficiency to the future of mobility and demographic change. Climate change in particular struck a chord with speakers as an area where answering society’s biggest challenges can also present growth opportunities for European industry. Geert Palmers, Director and Co-Founder of renewable energy specialists 3E, explained for example how an innovative approach to tech deployment has made Belgium one of the world’s five leading offshore wind power hubs – delivering an economic edge while lowering carbon emissions.
Engaging with concerns around technology
However, not all view technology through such rose-tinted glasses – with a number of MEPs pointing to fears among some citizens that rapid developments in digital tech could jeopardise privacy or security, or deepen economic divides. Acknowledging the validity of these concerns, Malte Lohan remarked on the need to engage with and try to address these concerns as an urgent priority: because while in some applications it can be viewed as a threat, technology will remain essential to safeguarding our quality of life and even – when looking to climate change in particular – to our very survival.
We cannot talk about the future we want for Europe without talking about technology
Finding a European way forward
Speakers were united, however, in promoting the need for a “truly European” strategy to unlock the potential of technology for the future of the EU. Whether reaching for zero-carbon, balancing growth with social responsibility, or achieving global leadership, “our European values are the most important tools we have to win these battles,” as MEP Carlos Zorrinho put it.
And this extends also to how we interact on the international stage, with a number of speakers citing the EU’s commitment to partnership and rules-based free trade as the best answer to competitive pressure from world regions such as China. “Europe’s culture of collaboration is our biggest strength,” underlined Javier Ormabazal Echevarria, President and CEO at VELATIA, urging EU policymakers to continue on this path.
Responding to Malte Lohan’s question of how we can measure the success of European industrial strategy by 2030, Vice-President Katainen echoed these sentiments: “Success will mean that we have managed to maintain the market economy; to achieve a socially and environmentally conscious market economy that retains a level playing field.” The evening’s dialogue made clear that this fundamental goal is shared across industry and policy – and that technology made in Europe will be at the heart of making this vision a reality.