To ensure that both European Green Deal and Digital Strategy can succeed, the European industrial policy shall also be revamped. The Industrial Strategy, presented on March 10th 2020, outlines how, according to the Commission, the European economy will be able to meet the challenges – whilst acting successfully and autonomously in the complicated structure of a global economy.
The plan presented by the Commission consists of three components: The Industrial Strategy, the SME Strategy and an Internal Market Strategy. Under the aegis of executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager and the Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, Thierry Breton, the Commission presented strategies, which shall deliver yet another jigsaw piece for a globally competitive, environmentally friendly and digital Europe.
The new Industrial Strategy
The core elements of the new Industrial Strategy aim at the competitiveness and autonomy of a digitally networked, innovative and low-emission European economy. Inner-European and non-European competition laws were identified as the first issue to be dealt with. As from 2021, European Competition rules including merger control rules and state aid guidelines shall be reviewed and adapted if required. The rules for foreign subsidies in the internal market or awarding EU contracts to companies abroad shall initially be explained in a White Paper and governed by a legal act in 2021. A competitive industry must be sustainable: Industries, whose production requires a lot of energy, must be modernised, decarbonised and based on sustainable mobility. An action plan for intellectual property shall update copyrights and enable “intelligent usage” of intellectual property. The guidelines for public procurement shall also undergo a sustainability check. A new alliance for clean hydrogen shall bundle and accelerate the efforts of relevant actors in hydrogen technology. The Commission seems to endorse alliances as new governance structures of industrial policy, that bring Member States and social partners together, as does the alliance for low-emission industries. Industrial clouds and platforms shall help digitalisation processes to enter a modern economy.
The SME Strategy
Being an important part of the European “industrial eco system”, small and medium-sized enterprises shall get special support to operate sustainably and digitally. Sustainability advisors shall be deployed to provide practical assistance. Regional centres of digital innovation shall be established, which will serve as a point of contact for SMEs. “Measures to remove practical or regulatory hurdles” shall give new impetus to innovation and competitiveness. A virtual monitoring centre shall ensure alternative dispute settlement. The Commission’s SME Strategy focusses on innovation and growth for small and medium-sized enterprises – it should be easier for them to go public, to network via the EU Start-up Nations Standard and to exchange proven proceedings.
Action plan for the internal market
The optimisation of the internal market shall succeed by removing already recognised obstacles, such as cumbersome national provisions or EU provisions, which have not been correctly implemented. The latter were initially identified in a report, which was also adopted on March 10th. An action plan to ensure better implementation and enforcement of internal market rules shall help to remedy the situation and could, provided all obstacles have been removed, generate a plus of 713 billion Euro. A special taskforce set up by Commission and Member States is set out to shape and accompany the process.
Nothing but hot air?
Even if Ursula von der Leyen’s 100 day targets have now been formally been reached, there is growing scepticism of the empurpled strategies, some of which contain too little substance and lack measurable targets. Many headlines are definitely important and correct, but there is only continuous reference to further strategies and action plans, which are yet to come. Hence, it has to remain open as to how the not yet to be submitted concrete proposals for action will have to be assessed. As for the new Industrial Strategy, experts criticize the non-existing target for high emission industries, which should not be missing in an industrial strategy that puts sustainability at its core. From the point of view of workers, it is also noticeable that these have been considered in two places only: qualifications and industrial forum. It is doubtful whether this is enough to meet the enormous structural challenges ahead of us. Apart from that, the strategy has little new to offer: most ideas were already presented by the previous Commission. In most cases they failed because of the resistance of smaller Member States that did not want to accept a subordinate role in relation to economic heavyweights such as Germany or France. In particular Germany and France, but also Poland and Italy had hoped that the new strategy would relax the competition law, enabling expansion and growth for large-scale European enterprises.