“Europe doesn’t just need more investments but a different way of doing things.”
This was one of the key phrases that captured the gist of the discussion, articulated by the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker at the High-Level Conference “Europe as an Investment Destination” which took place on 6 April 2016.
The conference was hosted by the European Political Strategy Center (EPSC) and attracted a plethora of European and international policy makers, business leaders and academia. Focusing on the flagship initiative of the Juncker Commission, the conference explored how the Investment Plan for Europe and the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) contribute to Europe’s economic recovery while driving innovation, technology and skills.
Questions such as “How Can the European Union Invest in its Competitive Future?’ and “How can the Investment Plan for Europe Make a Difference?” were addressed in an attempt to solve the equation that will put Europe back on the path of productivity and growth.
After 8 years of recession and despite intense efforts, the economy of the European Union is still struggling and is only expected to grow by 1.9% this year while unemployment, especially among young people, remains high. Not to mention that “investment in the EU is well below the pre-crisis average”, as Ann Mettler, Head of the European Political Strategy Center, mentioned.
A unanimous consensus was reached that a change is mandatory to relaunch economic growth in the EU with diverse views, however, on how to achieve it.
For many political and business representatives, the key factor is digitization of the economy. Carl Bildt, Chairman of the Global Commission on Internet Governance and former Prime Minister of Sweden, argued that “Europe is lagging behind” in investments in the digital sector and this is why growth has not been achieved yet. According to Jyrki Katainen, Vice President of the European Commission for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, “so far around one half of the EFSI-financed projects are linked to renewables or energy savings”. James Manyika, Director of the McKinsey Global Institute, also placed emphasis on digitization stating that the problem is not lack of talent but the fragmentation of the markets.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, powered by breakthrough technologies such as robotics and 3D printing, is currently unfolding. Europe is behind in industrial application and “it needs to speed up with infrastructure and data transmission” as Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) stated.
Emphasis was also placed on knowledge and skills. Alexander De Croo, Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, stated that “a big part of public investment goes to infrastructure”. He argued that private investments could go to infrastructure and public investments should be spent on education instead as it “brings the highest multiplier effect”. Following the same logic, Carl Bildt and Ann Mettler also agreed with the significance of digital skills in the era we are traversing.
The importance of collective action, structural reforms along with the completion of the Digital Single Market were also highlighted by the majority of the speakers. Carl Bildt stressed that the absence of a Digital Single Market is “a greater impediment than not having a single market for goods and services” in the past.
“The world around us has changed, is changing and we have to adapt accordingly” as Jyrki Katainen mentioned in his speech. Infrastructure, education and the right mentality are the key ingredients in the growth equation along with ambition as mentioned by Jean-Claude Juncker in his closing remarks.
*Photo taken by the European Commission’s website.
Νorth Αegean Region-Brussels office