EU Must Invest In New Businesses, Says Juncker

President Juncker is right that Europe needs to invest in smart, innovative and sustainable business, and that we need more Europe, not less to achieve this goal, writes Karine Iffour. 

On 13 September, in his annual State of the Union address, President Jean-Claude Juncker said: "The wind is back in Europe's sails. We now have a window of opportunity but it will not stay open forever. Let us make the most of the momentum, and catch the wind in our sails.”

He was referring to the fact that the euro area economy is experiencing almost 2% growth in GDP this year. Europe's industry is strong and has retained a leading position in many sectors in global markets. Industry accounts for two thirds of the EU's exports and provides jobs for 32 million people, with 1.5 million of these jobs created since 2013. But to maintain and reinforce its competitive advantage, an important modernisation effort is still required.

“We should stay the course set out last year…and we should chart the direction for the future. Now is the time to build a more united, stronger and more democratic Europe for 2025.”

Juncker’s speech outlined a comprehensive EU Industrial Policy Strategy underpinned by cooperation between countries and the efforts and cooperation of the EU institutions and industry.

The strategy sets out the fora – an annual Industry Day, and a High Level Industrial Roundtable – that will allow industry and civil society to steer industrial policy actions in the future.

Commenting on the strategy, Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen said: "By embracing technological change, converting research investments into innovative business ideas … we will pave the way for a smart, innovative and sustainable industry in Europe."

For this strategy to be implemented, the EU budget for 2018 needs to reflect the priorities of cohesion between member states and promote excellence in research and development in order to deliver employment and growth.

Research and the exchange of knowledge between universities and research centres is a practical way to protect against future crisis, not only by equipping young people with employment and better skills, but also by fostering investment and innovation.

 Across Europe there are different degrees of excellence in national universities, among the top ones belong the ETH Zurich, (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich,) listed as the fourth-best university in Europe and the ninth-best worldwide, while Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands came 14th in Europe and 47th worldwide.

Although the U.S. still has six entries in the global top ten, including the California Institute of Technology at number one, its traditional dominance is declining, thanks in part to stronger performances by the U.K. and Germany, but also by the Netherlands and Switzerland. The questions presented by Brexit to British Universities and their future participation in European Research and Development projects throws up a number of issues, but non-EU countries like Switzerland are participating actively and can perhaps give new hope to the UK’s universities for the future. 

To accomplish the goals of a more democratic, united and stronger Europe, there should be enhanced support to promote excellent research activities also in countries which are still below the EU average by closer collaboration with the higher performing economies. In this regard countries like the UK and Switzerland can play a crucial role. 

This is particularly true in the area of health policy, medical research and patient care, which were areas surprisingly not touched on in Juncker’s speech.

For example, The Slovakian Ministry of Health has a new long-term strategy to support and enhance the biomedical research and development activities through partnership with excellent researchers, including international experts from abroad. Slovakia is seeking to collaborate with experts from Swiss universities (such as the University of Zurich and the University of Berne) encouraging their active participation in a number of innovative research projects in Slovakia. The Slovakian Ministry of Health foresees that EU structural and cohesion funds will provide a major source of finance for these research and development activities and the Ministry is accordingly counting on EU support for their new strategy.

Projects like these will play an increasingly important role in determining the ability of European business to compete globally, not only in the provision of better healthcare but across all sectors. They will both create high skilled jobs and develop new technologies that will deliver higher productivity and benefit the wider economy. Europe's business future will depend on its ability to continuously adapt and innovate by investing in new technologies and striving for excellence through the exchange of knowledge across the regions and countries of the continent.

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Karine Iffour

Karine Iffour

Karine Iffour is the Managing Director of the Consultancy EOS BXL in Brussels. Prior to joining EOS BXL, Iffour managed IEEE in Brussels, and has served as advisor to the Secretary General of Normapme, a Brussels-based business enterprise association with a focus on standards and certification and as Vice-Chair of the general assembly for the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). 

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