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Vice-President of the European Commission with responsibility for industry and entrepreneurship
An Industrial Policy for a globalised world
House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee
London, 29 November 2010
Good Afternoon, esteemed members of the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills committee,
Allow me to start by saying how much of a pleasure and an honour it is for me, a former parliamentarian for 15 long years, to be in the House of Commons –the mother of all Parliaments.
I also want to thank you, honourable members, for accepting my request to see you. Every time I am on an official visit to an EU country, I always ensure that I can meet with its Parliament. I believe that this is crucial, as it represents a great opportunity for me to learn directly from you about your constituents’ concerns. Throughout my political life, I always pushed for a greater role – and say - of national parliaments in European matters. I am, therefore, particularly happy that my first visit to the House of Commons takes place after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty which strengthens the role of national parliaments in the EU decision-making process.
These are difficult times for us. Allow me to tell you how I see the future of the European Union and its economy.
For all its current woes, we must always have in mind the strength of our economy. The European Union remains - by far - the largest importer and exporter in the world. This is not our economic doomsday, there is a future for our enterprises -here in Europe - creating employment and welfare. Our role – as policymakers – is to provide them with the best possible framework to do so.
These are important, difficult, days where institutional actors across the EU need to show, once more, their own commitment, by strengthening their resolve, taking responsibilities and accepting new challenges.
The first and most important one, today, is the adoption of the EU Budget.
We need an “all-out” efforts which will benefit our citizens and our businesses.
Otherwise, how can we command credibility with our own constituents and with the financial markets? Action is needed, now.
I am here to convey three main political messages.
Firstly, the importance of the new European Industrial policy for securing our economic recovery.
The financial and economic crisis has taught us that Europe needs strong, diversified and sustainable financial markets and hubs, such as the City of London. At the same time, it also reaffirmed the need for Europe to maintain a strong, diversified and competitive industrial base.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The figures speak for themselves. Today, one out of every four jobs in Europe, are directly related to industry. Another one out of these four jobs is found in Industry-related services, an area in which the British economy is particularly strong.
Industry is also at the heart of research and development in Europe, and it is the driving engine for improvements in innovation and productivity and better linkages between universities and the job market. It is Industry, honourable members, which develops the technologies we need to master the societal challenges – like climate change, sustainable mobility, and management of scarce resources or demographic change – which lie ahead.
The face of the industrial base in the United Kingdom, as in other EU countries, has changed dramatically in the past years. A process of change accelerated by an ever faster globalisation and the emergence of new, large economic players such as Brazil, Russia, India or China. These countries have increased competitive pressure on our industrial base and economic model. Ultimately, the combination of these factors has driven production away from Europe, diminishing our competitiveness.
In the face of these changes, the Commission has recently issued a new initiative "An integrated industrial policy in the globalisation era – putting competitiveness and sustainability at centre stage".
This–new Industrial policy strategy – wants to be a blueprint to help European companies turn these challenges in to opportunities. Allow me to introduce it briefly.
This integrated strategy contains a number of measures which impact directly the cost, price and innovative competitiveness of our industry. Both horizontally and sectorally. This policy was designed to encompass “industry” in its wider sense, including the whole value and supply chains. The idea is to create the right framework conditions for industry to thrive.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Commission is determined to ensure that all EU actions and policies go in one direction. The target is to improve industrial competitiveness.
To this end, we will submit all new, important, policy proposals that will impact on industry to a detailed assessment of their overall effect on competitiveness. We are setting out to do "competitiveness-proofing" of EU legislation. I hope that member States will follow our lead on this, possibly also helping us to find a snappier name for it. Just as we seek to improve our legislation, we hope that national parliaments will help us to end the practice of "gold-plating" which puts industry – in particular SMEs - at a disadvantage.
We will also undertake "fitness checks" of existing legislation. We are committed to reducing the administrative burden on our enterprises. Once again, we invite Member States to do the same.
I need your help – honourable members- to put industrial competitiveness at the centre. The Commission, the EU institutions, cannot do this alone. This is an ambitious policy package which requires close co-operation with the Member States. Many of these policy actions, indeed, are to be taken at national or local level.
Ladies and gentlemen, my second political message is that the Commission wants to make doing business in Europe easier.
The Commission is strongly committed to a "smart regulation" approach and to deliver results that make a difference to companies and entrepreneurs on the ground.
In order to do this, we must build on our greatest collective achievement: the Single Market. We plan to take effective steps to complete it, where needed, and to build it in new areas such as business services or environmental technologies.
To facilitate the improvement of the business environment in the Union, the Commission will regularly report on Member States’ economic reforms, competitiveness policies and performance. This will happen also through peer reviews and exchanges of good practices.
The Commission also wants to help European industry to fully take advantage of all the new markets opened up by globalisation.
I believe that innovation is the key to building sustainable growth and a fairer and greener society. A step change in Europe's innovation performance is the only way to create lasting occupation that can withstand the mounting pressures of globalisation. Our new Innovation Union – much like the UK’s own strategy - focuses its efforts on the societal challenges we face. Innovation will also be key to ensuring that industry makes a rapid transition to a low carbon, resource-efficient economy, something crucial for our longer term competitiveness.
The Innovation Union will use public sector intervention to stimulate the private sector and to remove bottlenecks which stop ideas from reaching the market.
Let me make clear that we are in the business of sustaining the creation of tomorrow’s innovative ideas.
Again, I ask for your support in tackling these challenges.
I believe that the role of the EU is to give our economies that added value they need so badly today
Let me make this clear. I am not here to siphon off more “powers” to "Brussels’ "
What I do believe, is that all policies are best pursued at a certain level; be that international, European, national or local. My aim, therefore, is to find areas where political action at the EU level adds value to those undertaken in the member states.
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Allow me to mention three such areas:
We must improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the European standardisation system, to ensure that standards are never an additional burden but always an added value, particularly for SMEs.
The Daily Telegraph said, I quote: "Tourism contributes more to the economy than the financial and business sector yet it has received little support". Let me reassure you. It is not my intention to undermine the action of any Member States in the tourism sector, least of all the UK. My objective is to deliver this extra support needed by finding areas where action at Union level is better than action at national level.
I have already launched a strategy and an action plan to achieve it.
Let me conclude now. I hope I was able in my speech to give you a flavour of my way of doing politics: not in confrontation but always in cooperation with the Member States.
Honourable members of Parliament,
Sir Winston Churchill said in 1941: "I am a child of the House of Commons. I was brought up in my father's house to believe in democracy. 'Trust the people', that was his message…I owe my advancement entirely to the House of Commons, whose servant I am".
I am a great admirer of Winston Churchill. I wanted to end my speech as I started: showing my respect and appreciation to this prestigious house. I am now ready to answer your questions.