Industrial Strategy - European style

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European institutions launch communications and reports on this and that most days and, given the state of the debate on what Europe should and shouldn't be doing, it's worth checking out what the priorities actually are.

Today, for example, was quite a busy one for the Commission with, among other things, a report on Europe's Industrial Renaissance - an update on its Industrial Strategy. While we've already got one of those covering a range if industry sectors in the UK, the Commission highlights the importance of shoring up the industrial base right across Europe. It ties together the importance of industrial growth to innovation and job creation. And it highlights some common challenges across member states - including credit constraints, low investment, difficulties recruiting skills in sufficient numbers and the need to grow exports.

Much of this can and will be addressed by actions taken at the member state level, but the Commission also has some recommendations for action at the EU level. Among the priorities the Commission identifies are:

  • Deepening the internal market by completing the integration of energy, transport and communications networks
  • Pushing ahead to improve the functioning of the single market in services
  • Monitoring recent changes to the European Standardisation System to make sure it meets the pace of technological change
  • A commitment to pursue free trade agreements with key partners including the US, India, Canada and Japan
  • The need for further efforts to reduce the administrative burden on SMEs

This is not new territory for the European Commission. Work to progress the Single market, the increasing efforts on opening trade and investment opportunities, raising the proportion of EU funds dedicated to innovation and research and reining in the regulatory burden have been much discussed.

These are, nevertheless, the areas where Europe can really make a difference to growth and jobs by working together. Moreover, these are the policy priorities that manufacturers, in a recent EEF survey, believed to be important for their businesses.

% of manufacturing citing as important for EU actionSource: EEF Europe Survey 2013

All that said, simply restating what should be done to support growth and industrial competitiveness isn't quite enough. The Commission and the rest of Europe's institutions need to get rather better at how they are using their clout to make meaningful change in these areas. There also needs to be some degree of accountability - the EU has long been working on completing the Single Market. More clarity on where progress is and isn't being made is needed and with that strong UK influence to keep these important programmes on track.

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