The members of the Commission for Economic and Social Policy (ECOS) of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) have called for the easing of current restrictions on regional state aid for the automotive sector. In view of difficulties caused by the economic recession, coupled with specific structural problems in the automotive industry, the national and regional authorities must be allowed to provide effective support for large and medium-sized automotive enterprises. The ECOS commission's draft opinion on the European Commission’s communication CARS 2020: action plan for a competitive and sustainable automotive industry in Europe, also stresses the key role that EU funding plays in boosting research and addressing the skills shortage.
The draft opinion presented by the rapporteur Dr Christian Buchmann (AT/EPP - member of the Government of Styria) points out that the European Commission’s policies are often at cross purposes with each other, as is the case with state aid restrictions. The Commission’s Directorates General for Enterprise, Climate, Environment, Employment, Single Market and Trade therefore need to improve the coordination of their initiatives within the Commission.
"The automotive sector employs 12 million workers in the EU and is faced with serious structural challenges" stressed CoR rapporteur Buchmann, adding that: "If Europe is to preserve its industrial basis, the car industry deserves the highest attention and the quick deployment of an effective and far looking re-launch strategy. It would be a key element of a wider vision of the future of the EU industry". As regards the role of cities and regions, Dr Buchmann said that: "Regional and local authorities will continue making all efforts to promote innovation and quality jobs in this sector, but they urgently need wider margins of manoeuvre to support enterprises in difficulty".
Concerning the current lack of investment, ECOS members believe that research and development should be assured adequate funding through the Horizon 2020 programme. Nevertheless, it is crucial to fully exploit the opportunities provided by the Structural Funds to boost sustainable innovation. In this perspective, the European Social Fund can provide resources for targeted measures to enhance the skills of people working in this industry.
The promotion of a twin-track training system, in which businesses themselves train workers in the skills they need, and measures to attract women to the technical professions are also mentioned among the key actions needed to address the current skills shortage.
As regards sustainable innovation in the car industry’s products and processes, ECOS members call on automotive enterprises to step up the development of alternative propulsion technologies. In this context, regional and local authorities can make a significant contribution to providing appropriate infrastructure and promoting alternative technologies through a consistent public procurement strategy.
The draft opinion was adopted on 27 June at an ECOS meeting hosted by Dr Buchmann in Graz (Austria), where CoR members discussed the future of the EU automotive sector with experts and representatives of the industry in a seminar organised by the CoR and Styria.