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Ladies and gentlemen, President Marcegaglia,
Thank you for having invited me to today’s Business Europe day.
First of all I want to warmly congratulate you for the 60th anniversary of Business Europe. Having had an organised EU industry voice for such a long time is not a small feat. Businesses are the main engines of jobs creation, investment, innovation and prosperity. You are also indispensable partners for EU political decision-makers. By bringing together the views of all European businesses, you give us precious inputs to make sure that we set the right policies that will enable you to play your role best.
As announced in the renewed EU Industry Policy Strategy, on the occasion of our second edition of Industry Days, we set up a High-Level Industrial policy Roundtable to provide feedback and to prepare for the future. This first meeting, which brought together 20 people from diverse backgrounds was very encouraging and I would also like to thank Mrs Marcegaglia for her contribution to this work.
Ladies and gentlemen, Europe is back! The crisis is behind us and made us stronger. We learnt from our mistakes. And we are starting to see the results of our determined policy action. Growth is peaking up and employment is at an all-time high in the EU.
This is the perfect time to engage in structural reforms and modernize the EU and our economy so as to secure long-term prosperity, peace and cohesion in Europe. Let me mention three challenges that we must take up together:
preserving our fundamental values,
standing-up for open, fair and rules-based trade, and
embracing technological change while making our economy circular.
Preserving our fundamental values
Rule of law and democracy are amongst the core values we share in the EU. They are the DNA of Europe and what makes us proud and happy to live on this continent. We must all work together to uphold these values. They are non-negotiable, unlike the Brexit or our future budget. This is why it is so important for the Commission to ensure that all Member States respect them.
Businesses have their responsibilities too to uphold and promote these values. I am happy that this is precisely the first topic you have discussed this morning.
Standing-up for open, fair and rules-based trade
And not only must we constantly reaffirm our values within the EU, but we must also project them outside.
This is why the EU must firmly stand up for an open, fair and rules-based world order.
It is particularly important in these times when some are tempted to return to protectionist policies and unilateral action.
Our ambitious trade agenda serves this purpose. With our trade agreements, we open new markets but also promote high standards and values with like-minded partners, such as the fight against climate change or rule of law and human rights. The implementation of our agreements with Canada and Japan and the finalisation of negotiations with Mercosur and Mexico are therefore top priorities for this Commission.
The Commission also supports the WTO and its dispute settlement as a pillar of a rules-based multilateral order. And we support work to improve international rules, such as the one of the OECD to fight tax avoidance. Making sure that globalisation is fair is indeed essential to maintain citizens’ support for it. If we fail to do so, they will turn their back and vote accordingly.
This is why we must also defend EU industry and workers efficiently against unfair trade. We have successfully used last year and strengthened our trade defence instruments to protect our steel industry from dumping and overcapacity. We have proposed an EU foreign investment screening mechanism to increase transparency on risks of foreign takeovers of strategic assets. We will also not hesitate to act if countries introduce unilateral restrictive measures, while at the same time doing our utmost to avert a trade war.
Embracing technological change and circular economy
Ladies and gentlemen, let me now talk about two mega-trends that deeply transform our economies and societies, and that I think we must embrace and shape: artificial intelligence and circular economy.
Let’s first speak about digitalisation and artificial intelligence. They transform everything: the way we communicate, the way we move, the way we shop, or the way we inform ourselves and think. By doing so they disrupt the world we know. Even if such disruption can sometimes be painful, I think we have no choice than embracing this change, because it also brings decisive improvements. Of course, regulators must also act to mitigate negative impacts and risks brought by technological change. And we must all help those that need it most to adapt and make the transition.
US and China are ahead of us in the field of digital and AI. It is essential that Europe become also a leader in this field. So what shall we do?
Well, you, the businesses, are the main actors and drivers of change. Your investment in research, your efforts to adapt your businesses to AI, your search for new skills, your innovations are what will enable Europe make the leap forward. And so are all the start-ups that are maybe too small to have joined Business Europe yet. But I hope some will scale up and then join your organisation.
Governments have of course also their role to play. Investing in high quality education, to equip our people with the right skills, is a top priority.
We must also continue to support research and innovation. The share of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence in Horizon 2020 is one of the world's largest civilian research programs with a total budget close to 700 million Euros, leveraging an additional 2.1 billion euros from the industry. We can be proud of this, even if more must be done to catch up with the US and China that invest even larger amounts.
As regulators, we will have to carefully choose what to regulate and what not to regulate to create an enabling framework, and keep learning and adapt, as much as businesses and people do. A careful balance between data protection and data flows must for instance be established, so that citizens’ privacy is preserved, but that companies can also actually exploit data to develop products and services based on AI.
We must also strengthen the EU single market, in particular the digital single market, so as to facilitate economies of scale and the emergence of big European digital champions.
Of course, with all this transformation, some jobs might be automated and lost. But the net impact on jobs is not yet clear. High skill jobs will also be created if the EU becomes a strong technology maker. Which is why it is so important to help everybody make the transition.
Finally, let me end by mentioning another mega-trend that I am passionate about: circular economy. This is an area where the EU is a world leader. The goal of preserving our planet does not have to be contrary to the logic of market economy. By being more efficient and setting the right regulatory framework, we can create the right incentives to turn our economy circular, and help our businesses be amongst the most competitive in the world. Our recent plastic strategy, or our eco-certification scheme are good examples of how to do so.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention. I am happy to exchange on this matter with you.