In the context of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), the 'Manufacture 2015' Conference was held in Luxembourg on 23 and 24 November 2015. The main aim of this conference, which brought together actors and experts from European industry, was to identify and validate new political, financial and scientific instruments which could help strengthen and improve research and innovation in Europe. In their opening speech, the speakers stressed the importance of investing in the manufacturing sector. Francine Closener, Secretary of State for the Economy, pointed to innovation as the key to competitiveness in the European manufacturing industry.
The manufacturing industry has been and continues to be "the backbone of the European economy"
In her opening speech, Francine Closener, Secretary of State for the Economy, stressed that the manufacturing industry "has been" and "continues to be the backbone of the European economy", through its contribution to economic growth, employment and innovation. "However, due to stronger competition from emerging markets, the European industry has increasingly come under threat in the recent years", she clarified. In order "to reverse the trend of deindustrialisation and investment leakage", and "maintain a high standard of living in Europe", businesses must, in her view, "seize the opportunities of the global market". They must further integrate into global value chains and strengthen their position as frontrunners in product and process innovation, she stressed.
The importance of the manufacturing sector is reflected in the priorities of the Luxembourg Presidency, which underlines the need to stimulate investment to support growth and employment, to revitalise the single market by focusing on the digital dimension, placing European competitiveness in a global and transparent framework, promoting sustainable development and finally, strengthening the presence of the EU on the world stage, Francine Closener indicated.
"In addition, the Luxembourg Presidency is building on the Investment Plan for Europe, the so-called Juncker Plan", she added, noting that implementation of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) will mobilise existing European funds for strategic investment projects providing added value to the EU. "A particular attention is given to SMEs", which "experience greater difficulties in investing in innovation, in exporting and integrating the global value chains", she went on to say.
The Secretary of State went on to indicate that the Luxembourg Presidency supports the Commission in its efforts to make the regulatory framework more predictable and to remove constraints on investment. "It is essential to establish the Capital Markets Union, as proposed by the Commission", she stressed, criticising the fact that Europe's capital markets "remain fragmented" and "are constrained to their home markets".
For Francine Closener, it is essential to remove obstacles to cross-border investment and to improve access to funding for SMEs and large businesses in the capital markets of all EU Member States.
"The Luxembourg Presidency has been very proactive in supporting European industrial policy", said Francine Closener. She mentioned the extraordinary meeting of the Council on "Competitiveness", called by the Luxembourg Presidency on 9 November 2015, during which ministers examined the measures required to address competitiveness in the steel industry in Europe.
In her view, it is innovation that drives the competitiveness of the manufacturing industry, in particular through data gathering, data management and data analytics, which allows us, according to her, to "understand" and "optimise our processes" and "to enhance productivity". She mentioned the initiative taken by the government of Luxembourg to launch an important project of common European interest (IPCEI) on applications using HPC and Big Data, designed to help achieve European industrial sovereignty over the principal HPC technologies, to support the development of new uses for HPC by industry and provide public and private research access to world-class HPC facilities. The Secretary of State encouraged the manufacturing industry to seize the opportunities offered by this initiative.
"Supporting private investment in the digital age"
Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, also stressed the importance of the manufacturing industry. "This sector is currently worth 7 billion euros to the European economy, generating 80% of total EU exports, and providing 30 million direct jobs and double that in indirect employment, mainly in SMEs", he said. The Commission aims to support adaptation in the manufacturing industry to the digital age, specifically through the Horizon 2020 programme and a range of funding opportunities for innovative businesses. "Our intention is to offer both the incentives and the right conditions to support private investment in the digital age", he said.
"Besides the gap in investment, we have an enormous gap in innovation in Europe"
"Industry is part of the economic DNA of the EU", Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) declared. He stressed that there is an investment gap in the EU, placing it at around 15% below pre-crisis levels.
The speaker called for an industrial renaissance in Europe, based on digitisation and strengthening the assets of the EU's manufacturing sector. Concerning the digital transformation, Werner Hoyer highlighted the importance of putting in place a single digital framework in the EU, noting that Europe will not be at the cutting-edge if 28 different sets of regulation continue to coexist.
"Besides the gap in investment, we have an enormous gap in innovation in Europe", so that the EU finds itself "behind the major global innovators", continued Werner Hoyer. These two deficits have, in his view, a negative impact on the competitiveness of European industry.
Therein lies the importance, in his view, of the Juncker plan and the EFSI in order provide guarantees to investors and allow them to get involved in more high-risk projects.
Technological innovation is "a unique opportunity for developed countries their manufacturing sector ahead of the pack"
For Michel Wurth, President of the Chamber of Commerce, industry has always been a "vector for change in society", particularly in the area of technology and productivity. To address the recent decline in the manufacturing sector in the EU, he stressed the need to "reinvent the role and position of industry in our societies", expressing the view that this sector is "the future of our continent".
In his view, technology has been a game changer in the manufacturing sector: productivity no longer depends on mass production and a low-cost workforce, but increasingly on new technologies, in particular ICT and 3D printing techniques. "This is a unique opportunity for developed countries to get their manufacturing sectors ahead of the pack and maintain their position as global leaders", he said.
In this context, the speaker expressed the view that it falls to the private sector to have the necessary creativity and to take the necessary risks to produce innovation. "For its part, society must focus on scientific excellence, on quality training and education, and on establishing a level playing field in regulatory terms, particularly in terms of climate change and energy prices", said Michel Wurth.
"All strategies for the manufacturing sector should include an investment strategy in order to succeed"
Heinrich Flegel, President of the 'High-level Manufacturing Group', also stressed the importance of large-scale investment in the manufacturing sector, particularly in scientific research and innovation. "All strategies for the manufacturing sector should include an investment strategy in order to succeed", he stated firmly, in light of the fact that in Europe, in this sector, capital investment and profits are "closely linked". In his view, the manufacturing sector will be "the driving force behind a new low-carbon knowledge economy, which uses its resources effectively".