Ladies and Gentlemen,
You have had the opportunity to follow a number of stimulating debates this morning. I am very pleased to make my own contribution to this debate, sharing my ideas and views with you on the synergies between digital transformation and sustainability.
This subject is very close to my heart because it touches upon the core elements of our policies on competiveness, growth and jobs.
It is also very much in line with the long-term vision I have of creating the best conditions for a competitive and sustainable EU economy which thrives globally.
Our economies and societies are undergoing tremendous changes at the moment. Many of these changes are fuelled by new technologies and innovative ways to do business and interact. In particular the digital revolution is sweeping aside barriers of geography and distance with massive impacts around the world.
This is a global mega-trend that will have a huge impact on us all. It brings tremendous opportunities that we should seize.
The digital revolution has already started. In the long run, new technologies will deeply affect the lives of citizens and companies, both big and small.
In the global economy, those who will make full use of the new key-enabling technologies across the value-chain will also be the best positioned in the global race for competiveness.
Investing in new technologies in a multidisciplinary way will bring synergies, efficiency and productivity gains. The combined use of digital technologies with other emerging technologies brings about new and innovative business models, generates competiveness, jobs and growth.
Last but not least, it also empowers individuals across continents in a way that many governments could not even imagine only a few decades ago.
Making full use of new technologies, in particular ICT, will be the key to building a more sustainable and energy efficient future. Embracing these new developments is an opportunity not to be missed if we want to secure the future for our children.
What is more, this creates a win-win situation. At the same time as we invest in the modernisation of our economies and societies, we also lay the basis for sustainable development and energy-efficiency.
Smart investments in growth and competitiveness bring sustainability.
This is at the heart of EU action. To create the best conditions transformation and modernisation across the EU, in all Member States and all regions, the Commission has taken a comprehensive approach. It has also set itself very ambitious objectives.
We will work jointly with other EU Institutions, the Member States and stakeholders to achieve our goals, making full use of new technologies.
As the Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness on a daily basis I work with my fellow Vice-Presidents, and members of the Commission who are part of my team. We have a coherent approach. And we want to achieve concrete results that make a real difference.
This is what we are working on day and night, relentlessly and also with a certain sense of urgency. This is all the more important given the challenging international context close to our borders and our joint commitment to fight against the climate change.
I will not enter into all areas of our action here. Allow me to focus on just three main areas:
1) Circular Economy;
2) The Investment Plan,
3) The Single Market and Digital Single Market strategies
I will also say a few words on the importance of the international dimension of our activities which cuts across all these three areas.
What is the circular economy and why is it so important?
The circular economy is about transforming the market economy in a more sustainable direction. It is about changing mind-sets and business models.
Earlier this morning I gave a keynote speech at the European Circular Economy Conference here in Brussels. I can tell you that there is tremendous enthusiasm to promote this concept and embrace the new innovative models that come with it.
This is because a circular economy responds to the main challenges of our time. In the long run, it will help our economy to become more competitive and resilient, relieve the pressure on our resources and environment, create jobs and social cohesion, and spur innovation.
Indeed, there are many good reasons for moving away from our linear economic model. The sooner this happens, the better. In a world where population rises every day, with huge demand placed on land, water, food, feed, raw materials and energy, we simply cannot rely anymore on a 'take, make, use and throw away' approach.
Digital technologies have a role to play in this process, since they affect the full product lifecycle. They bring substantial gains in terms of carbon and energy efficiency. They also enable the management of end-of-life products in a smarter and energy-efficient way.
On 2 December, the Commission adopted a new Circular Economy package. The package consists of a legislative proposal on Waste and an Action Plan implementable during the mandate of this Commission that will help the transition towards a more circular economy.
This package makes an important contribution to the the broader agenda of the European Union for jobs and growth. It is closely linked with our energy and climate policies and it contributes to the implementation of the Paris COP21 commitments.
This package is not just about waste management. The measures proposed in the Circular Economy package address the full lifecycle of products: including product design and production processes, through better informed consumer choices, to modern waste management and turning waste into quality secondary raw materials.
In the end it is also about providing clear and predictable conditions for business to invest in circular methods. We concentrate on legal clarity, predictability and stability, facilitation of investments and stimulating innovation.
Through the 2016-2017 call for proposals under Horizon 2020 on "Industry 2020 in the circular economy", the European Commission will invest over EUR 650 million in innovative demonstration projects. This is a concrete investment that should also bring very concrete results and the lead the way towards a circular economy model.
Single market and digital single market
The second important strand of our work concerns the Single Market and the Digital Single Market.
The Single Market is Europe's main engine for growth and job creation. It is key to investment and increasing European competitiveness.
The Single Market Strategy, together with the Digital Single Market Strategy, the Capital Markets Union and the Energy Union are essential drivers for future-proof and sustainable growth and job creation in Europe. The Juncker Commission is committed to ensuring that these strategies, together with our upcoming Skills Agenda, will be implemented in a timely, ambitious and mutually consistent way.
My conviction is that the Single Market needs to be modernised in a way that improves the functioning of the markets for products and services and guarantees appropriate protection for people. Our Single Market Strategy aims to achieve just that.
It is made up of targeted actions in three key areas:
creating opportunities for consumers, professionals and businesses;
encouraging and enabling the modernisation and innovation that Europe needs;
ensuring practical delivery that benefits consumers and businesses in their daily lives.
To ensure practical delivery, the Single Market Strategy also focuses on enforcement and compliance. We want to create a culture of smart enforcement and reinforce the application of mutual recognition principles.
Finally, the Commission wants to embrace the potential for renewal that the collaborative economy businesses provide. It is an opportunity for growth and jobs, providing benefits for consumers and entrepreneurs. We will adopt a communication on the European collaborative economy in mid-2016. The Communication will include guidance on how existing EU law applies to collaborative economy operators.
In parallel and closely interlinked with the single market strategy, the implementation of the Digital Single Market strategy is advancing well. Some measures for instance in the area of copyright were already adopted in 2015. The others will follow in 2016 and early 2017. I am sure my colleague Commissioner Oettinger will tell you more about this in his video message.
The most effective strategies are backed up by intelligent use of resources and budget, mobilising efforts and multiplying impact. This brings me to the Investment plan.
As many of you know, within only a month of taking office, the Commission launched its Investment Plan for Europe and the European Fund for Strategic Investments. This covers three areas:
• mobilising investments of at least €315 billion in three years
• supporting investment in the real economy
• creating an investment friendly environment.
The plan is already up and running, starting to counter the decline in investment and driving economic recovery.
The European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) supports investments in key areas of the European economy, including research, development and innovation, information and communication technologies, SMEs and start-ups.
The aim is to mobilise EUR 315 billion of new investments, with a maximum of private sector capital, over the next three years.
So far, the Fund has triggered some EUR 61.5 billion in investments, including in broadband, research and to support SMEs and start-ups.
But the availability of resources is not everything. The Investment Plan created also the European Investment Advisory Hub, which provides technical assistance to make projects fit for investment. In addition we have set up the European Investment Project Portal, a website offering better visibility for projects in Europe to international investors.
Despite a number of innovative approaches, commercial banks alone are failing to cater to the financing needs of many innovative companies. And that is where the public sector support would be required. The Investment Plan creates this opportunity. The Plan is putting our money “back to work” – for the benefit of all Europeans.
Indeed, experience shows that digital transformation requires the right investment environment. That includes legal certainty for big data ownership, removing regulatory innovation barriers, facilitating cooperation between IT and engineering and between regions. Without that companies will not invest in Europe.
The so-called "third pillar" of the investment plan, aims to create a better business environment for investment by providing greater regulatory predictability and further strengthening the Single Market.
Finally, a few words about the international dimension of our activities:
The Investment Plan for Europe which I just mentioned is also about increasing our engagement with the EU's strategic partners, to position the EU as dynamic place for global investors and, of course, to attract more capital from abroad.
We want to help European companies to take up investment opportunities abroad by opening up markets in partner countries and ensuring a level playing field. At the same time, we want to promote the EU as a major destination for foreign investment.
Our trade policy is being updated to take the new realities in terms of technologies and innovation into account. The Commission seeks to use Free Trade Agreements to set rules for e-commerce, localisation and cross border data flows, in full compliance with and without prejudice to the EU’s data protection and data privacy rules.
Also in the digital sphere, trade facilitating work on regulatory cooperation, mutual recognition and harmonisation of standards remains of prime importance. Joint work with other trading partners on the future 5G standards is only one example.
Digital transformation should not been seen as an end in itself. Because of its disruptive and multidisciplinary potential, it can serve multiple purposes, such as fuelling green growth and energy-efficient economy.
That is why the new EU trade policy strategy also puts a strong emphasis on sustainability, inter alia through the sustainable sourcing of materials and responsible management of global supply chains and the inclusion of sustainable development chapters in all free trade agreements.
This is also reflected in the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals, which the Heads of State and Government of the UN Member States adopted last September.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have just given you a brief overview of our activities that support the synergies between technological transformation and sustainability. There is still much more that could be said on this topic, on the transforming role of digital and other key enabling technologies. I hope in the ensuing sessions you will be able to make the link with these issues, challenges and the strategic frameworks I just outlined.
This year will be crucial for setting in motion a number of important initiatives at the EU level. When implemented well, they will have a very positive impact on the EU's competitiveness and sustainable growth. I count on your continued support to our common efforts to modernise the European economy.
Thank you for your attention.