The Committee of the Regions shares the view that industry has become an urgent priority, which is why the European Commission has adopted the target of increasing industry's share of GDP to 20% by 2020. The representatives of the EU's towns and regions underline however that local roots and the human dimension are the most decisive factors in the future of European industry. In their opinion, adopted at today's plenary session, they also call for better coordination of industrial policies and of EU cohesion by means of territorial pacts.
Highlighting the industry's leverage effect on the economy as a whole, especially in terms of jobs, the CoR advocates making industrial renewal a genuine political priority, on the same political footing as cohesion, infrastructure and agriculture. At the same time, it points out that although this imperative is increasingly recognised, it is not always supported by the Member States, as borne out by the cuts that the European Council proposes to make in the future EU budget in sectors of particular importance for industry (research & innovation and trans-European infrastructure, for example).
The Committee also argues that mobilising towns and regions is an aspect of industrial policy that is too often overlooked. As Claude Gewerc (FR/PES), President of the Picardy Region, explains "Local authorities are the first to suffer the consequences of deindustrialisation. They are also partners in renewing industry, even if they are all too often forgotten. It is in our local areas that the changes in ways of life and producing play out and where industrial ecosystems take root. That is why we strongly back setting up territorial pacts so that national and local policies on the one hand, and EU sectoral and cohesion policies on the other, can be brought closer together".
Committee members support the European Parliament's proposal to create an industrial policy steering group with the aim of bringing together European, national and local powers. They also recommend introducing a new category of mid-sized enterprise that could receive appropriate rates of support – higher than for large enterprises, but lower than for SMEs.
The CoR emphasises the key importance of human capital and social dialogue. It calls for the social partners to be more closely involved in businesses, states and regions, and especially in managing restructuring. Moreover, it proposes that forward-looking management of skills and change be viewed as a crucial component of industrial policy.
The European Parliament rapporteur, Reinhard Bütikofer (DE/Greens), also came to the CoR to outline the main points of the debate. He wished to emphasise that "Regions are a key element in the context of industrial policy. In this vein, Europe needs a strategy to reindustrialise its Southern economies. It is a shame that this dimension finds no space in the European Commission's Flagship Initiative". The MEP also agrees with the CoR's opinion on the importance of skills and human capital. "These aspects need to be strengthened by focusing on more social dialogue, worker participation, vocational training and social innovation. Regions play an important role in this regard".
Turning more specifically to restructuring, the CoR has set out its position on the future EU guidelines on State aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty in order to contribute to the debate at an early stage. The guidelines are expected in the second half of 2013, In its opinion that was passed unanimously, the CoR argues for simple, fair and transparent rules so that State aid can help businesses to overcome periods of instability, safeguard their industrial know-how and help keep jobs in their regions. In this regard, the rapporteur, Christophe Rouillon (FR/PES), Mayor of Coulaines, stresses that "State aid is not a bad thing, but nor is it necessarily a good thing: it needs to be properly calibrated and regulated to ensure that it makes economic sense and serves the public interest."
The opinion opposes the idea of limiting the scope of the guidelines to firms that are in formal insolvency proceedings. It calls for the maximum amount of aid to any one firm to be raised from EUR 10 to EUR 15 million, to take account of inflation and increased GDP, and for the possibility of compensatory measures in the case of public authority involvement (for example, a ban on payment of dividends during the restructuring period). The Committee also backs the application by analogy of the "anti-relocation" clause contained in the structural funds regulation, and the introduction of specific de minimis thresholds of EUR 200 000 for SMEs and EUR 500 000 for other businesses for notifying the Commission of State aid.
The adoption of the Committee's position on relaunching industrial policy comes in the wake of the Europe 2020 conference on industrial policy held by the CoR on 10 April. Speakers, including the CoR President, Ramón Luis Valcárcel, and the European Commission for industry, Antonio Tajani, discussed reindustrialisation as a challenge for regional change and the role of local and regional authorities in stimulating industrial competitiveness (see press release).