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Industrial competitiveness

Industrial competitiveness and the role of policy in difficult times

High level conference - 17 March 2009, Brussels

The European economy is greatly affected by the fall-out of the disorderly unwinding of the global financial crisis. Coping with these unexpected shocks comes on top of other well-known challenges, such as accelerating globalisation, the need to decarbonise our economies and to make our energy systems more sustainable, and the demographic challenge. This all calls for an ever faster pace of structural adjustment while at the same time avoiding a long-lasting recession and social hardship. But it also provides an opportunity to position the European economy as a front-runner to meet these challenges.

Addressing economic challenges is therefore back at the top of the agenda of policy-makers and businessmen alike. Our ability to maintain and improve the competitiveness of our economy will determine our capacity to minimize and overcome the looming slowdown, and to successfully tackle the other major and long-lasting challenges mentioned above. The European Union therefore needs to intelligently use its economic policies to reinvigorate sustainable growth and job creation, and to avoid so far as possible a temporary undershooting of investment (and consumption) in Europe. It is now the task of policy makers and the business community in Europe to turn these challenges into opportunities.

The conference has brought together European and international policy makers, businessmen and economists, including Nobel Prize Laureate Prof. Paul Krugman, to discuss ways ahead for policy-markers and businesses to set the framework conditions for success in the next decade.

The conference underlined the need for policy-makers and business to react quickly to successfully face the crisis. As also pointed out by the European Economic Recovery Plan, the immediate policy actions within a short-term framework should be timely, targeted, temporary, and coordinated in order to be most effective. The actions with a medium to longer term orientation should be guided by considerations on how to sustain and eventually increase the competitiveness of the European economies.

The crisis, as the panellists agreed, offers the chance for setting new priorities and stimulating the renewal of the industrial sector. At the Community level, the European industrial policy provides the right framework for actions that target sustained competitiveness while avoiding short-sighted interventionist moves. A successful crisis reaction and bringing forward the competitiveness reform agenda with its medium-term perspective require strong leadership of both public and private actors and sufficient coordination across the EU to let synergies work and avoid beggar they neighbour attitudes and harmful distorting effects.

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