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‘We need to export our goods and technologies, but not our jobs. Investment must happen in Europe’

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At the European Economic and Social Committee’s April plenary, Maive Rute, the Commission’s Deputy Director-General for Internal Market, and Oliver Röpke, EESC President, highlighted that strengthening the EU’s competitiveness is key to increasing the growth and well-being of our economy and society.

The EU has to act quickly and urgently if it wants to catch up and survive in the face of the excessive power of the world’s economic giants.

According to Maive Rute, the European Commission’s Deputy Director-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW), there is no time to lose.

Speaking at the plenary session on 24 April, and assessing the state of play of EU competitiveness, she said: ‘What we need is radical change. We cannot leave the implementation of the single market to be carried out through good will – we need real enforcement behind it. We need to export our goods and technologies, but not our jobs. Our industries need to be competitive, and investment must happen here’.

Ms Rute stressed the need to focus on making investments available to our industry in order to scale up, and to our research and innovation activities, where the EU lags behind the US, China and Japan. She also highlighted the importance of ensuring that the EU has a real level playing field with its international competitors.

Emphasising that competitiveness is a cornerstone of the EU’s economic success, driving growth, innovation, and prosperity while enhancing its global influence and resilience, Oliver Röpke, EESC President, said: ‘When we discuss European competitiveness, we must put people at the centre of the debate and ensure that we leave no one behind. Its ultimate impact and significance lie in how it affects the well-being, opportunities and prosperity of individuals and communities. Therefore, any debate on competitiveness must prioritise the needs, rights and aspirations of people’.

During the debate, Emilie Prouzet, rapporteur of the EESC opinion on the Long-term competitiveness strategy adopted at the plenary session, mentioned that the EU currently ranks third in terms of generated wealth, whereas 15 years ago, its economy rivalled that of the United States. ‘Today, the GDP of the euro zone only represents 57% of our American counterpart. And there is no prospect of catching up in the short term,’ she stated.

Co-rapporteur Stefano Palmieri pointed out that the EU must adopt a sustainable competitiveness agenda, with a European industrial policy aimed to promote an integrated and inclusive European industrial system based on two key players: the company and its workers. ‘Competitiveness must be based on cohesion policy and on investment in quality public services, because safe workers are also more productive,’ he said.

On behalf of the EESC’s Employers’ Group, the president of the EESC’s Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption (INT), Sandra Parthie, said that the EU lacks an investment agenda that is aligned with EU priorities, and that the problem is not a lack of assessment reports but a lack of action to implement projects.

According to EESC member Maxi Katharina Leuchters, representing the EESC’s Workers Group, Europe needs a holistic answer to strengthen long-term growth rather than short-term profits for the few, and to invest in skills, quality jobs and working conditions, especially because of the current labour shortages.

Finally, for the EESC’s Civil Society Organisations’ Group, EESC member Giuseppe Guerini stressed that real competitiveness stems from a strong social cohesion. Without solidarity and social infrastructure, Europe loses its real competitiveness, because people are the first competitive factor.

Background

On 14 February 2024, the European Commission published its new Annual Single Market and Competitiveness Report, which tracks yearly developments according to nine competitiveness drivers: the functioning of the single market, access to private capital, public investment and infrastructure, research and innovation, energy, circularity, digitalisation, education and skills, and trade and open strategic autonomy.

The report singles out the competitive strengths and challenges of the European single market, pointing out that it is one of the world’s largest integrated market areas, and that it boosts the EU’s economy. It highlights the need to step up the enforcement of agreed rules and to simplify their implementation.

Mario Draghi’s upcoming report on the future of European competitiveness will add valuable findings to the Commission’s monitoring of the EU’s competitiveness, as was the case with Enrico Letta’s report on the future of the single market, which was published on 10 April.

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