EVP Vestager Closing remarks at the 4th Industrial Forum meeting

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Good afternoon, everyone. I’m really envious of not being with you, because even here, behind the screen, I can feel that this is different. It is different when coming together and recognizing each other. So I hope to be able to join you next time.

I would also hope that next time will also be a time when things have changed. Because things have changed dramatically since last time this forum took place six months ago. Back then, we were shaping the post-pandemic era and advancing towards recovery.

 

Today, the work is done in the shadow of war in Europe. A war that has created a hardship sorrow beyond belief, but obviously also challenges that we did not have before and increased vulnerabilities that were already visible during the COVID crisis.

This war is forcing us to pay a heavy price for our dependency on Russian fossil fuels. A sharp rise in inflation and surging energy prices are severely impacting businesses. I saw numbers recently that the risk of default for EU firms has increased from 10% to 17%, according to the European Investment Bank. That is a sad indicator of where we are today.

That is why, through these difficult times and in this unprecedented situation, we have been helping the sectors most in need.

First, through the temporary State aid framework for the pandemic, and second, now, through a Temporary Crisis framework to enable Member States to help firms cope with the situation that we are in. It can be the effects of the sanctions imposed on Russia, or the effects of rising energy prices. And we will continue to take measures. We will continue to work with Member States to learn what are the needs, but also to take a new perspective and try to learn from this new situation, so that we can be better prepared for future crises.

That is why your work and feedback is also really important and appreciated on the Emergency Instrument, to make sure that the Single market reacts more quickly and is there at all times. To make sure that, whether there is crisis or not, our Single Market is there to provide for the most important things for doing business.

But, above all, we have learnt a crucial lesson: that the relevance of our long-term objectives, the digital and green transitions, is timelier than ever.

We need to focus on these long-term objectives and speed up delivery. We have literally no time to lose. Therefore, I am happy to see that today, you discussed in-depth how we can tailor our green and digital efforts to these changed circumstances.

I’ve said it before, but the fact is ownership by industry is the single most important factor to success in any of our policies. And when you embrace the energy, green and digital targets not just passively, but  you integrate them actively in your strategy, then of course common goals can be achieved.

And this is precisely why your work on the transition pathways is so important. I am glad to see that the discussions have moved to concrete deliverables and tailor-made plans for each industrial ecosystem.

Another key objective is increasing resilience. The crises have made clear that we are now living in a much more unpredictable world. What we used to know as normal times are not coming back any time soon. The next stable situation will be different, because it will also be shaped by the decisions that we are taking right now. Decisions on how to make supply chains resilient, on how to diversify supply and the customer base.

The first step for us is to accept this reality and to come out of our reactive crisis mode, but without forgetting the lessons learnt during these difficult years.

In this light, I’m particularly pleased by the focus you all put on the role of skills. Our people have always been our most important asset. And in unpredictable times, it is precisely a skilled and motivated workforce that will foster resilience and help us achieve the twin transitions.

Equally, the focus on strategic dependencies is most welcome. I am very much looking forward to seeing the planned position paper from the Forum in this regard, so that we can get concrete ideas into action. Strategic dependencies are often the result of conscious economic decisions. What we have heard today clearly signals that the business community is not passive on these issues. You understand that your positive choices matter as much, if not more, than any policy proposals we can make. We will of course make our proposals, but we will never make that in an empty space. Because the decisions that you take, the strategies that you pursue are keys when dealing with strategic dependencies.

The final takeaway for me is to do with fundamentals. I am very pleased that there is such a clear and broad consensus around the importance of our Single Market. Because ultimately, fair and open markets, consistent application of the rule of law, and maintaining a good business environment, are the things we know lead to economic success.

Thank you for your recommendations in this area. We will continue enforcing the rules rigorously to ensure our Single Market functions properly. This also includes making more efforts to remove the barriers that still hinder companies who seek to scale-up.

That said, delivering on the twin transition and tackling our strategic dependencies means, of course, taking effective action to secure reliable sources of critical raw materials.

Already now our economy depends on them, and these needs will only increase in the coming years.

To ensure reliability, we are working at international level to build global partnerships and diversify supplies. We are also carefully monitoring the supply of critical raw materials and have put in place a clear roadmap.

And we are also acting at home, because some of the raw materials we are talking about also exist here in Europe. But it is essential to improve circularity and recycling in manufacturing. More efforts are needed, but I do think we are on the right path.

So thank you once again. Without your embrace, without your ownership, without your ongoing active engagement our work would not make sense.

Of course, this is not the end of the road – your cooperation will be even more important in the months to come, as things become more and more concrete. But for now, I wish you all a pleasant summer. Some will have to work, some will have to work a lot, but I hope that sometimes you can also breath and get the batteries reloaded for what seems to be a very busy Autumn.

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