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New year, new opportunities for an industry in profound transformation

January 2018, the start of a new year – and it looks set to be another exceptional twelve months for the European engineering industries represented by Orgalime. Growth is forecast at 3.5%, building on 2017’s impressive turnover and employment figures. And beyond the numbers, our industry continues to make an even broader economic impact as an enabler of innovation across sectors – innovations that are delivering solutions to Europe’s societal challenges. From smart electricity grids to e-mobility networks, connected healthcare to energy-efficient building systems, the technologies developed by path-breaking engineering firms are laying the groundwork for a greener, healthier and more sustainable future for Europe.

So it’s an exciting time to be representing these firms – and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to do just that, as I join Orgalime as Director General. From the conversations I have had with our member associations across Europe over the last few months, it is clear to me that our industry is undergoing a profound transformation. The fourth industrial revolution is in full swing. Digitisation is taking productivity, resource efficiency and customisation on the factory floor to a whole new level. And the data generated by connected production systems and products is fuelling new business models that are redefining any traditional notion of what ‘industry’ entails.

How can EU policies support this transformation, and help engineering companies maximise their contribution to Europe’s economy and society? My main task as Orgalime’s Director General will be to ensure our industry’s voice is heard by decision-makers in Brussels. And if there is one central message we want to send, it is that the evolution of our sector requires a new kind of industrial strategy: one which looks to the future, which builds on Europe’s unique strengths in a highly competitive global marketplace, and which recognises that companies operate and invest in an environment shaped by multiple policy fields – making a holistic approach a must.

When it comes to the digital transformation, the right policy mix will be crucial. From the internal market, to research funding, to energy and circular economy policies: there are many elements of the EU framework that can work together to create an attractive environment for investment and innovation in digitisation. The Estonian Presidency made impressive progress on this twin track of digital and industrial policy over the last six months of 2017, and we are looking to Bulgaria to keep this momentum going over the next half-year. It is encouraging to see the European Commission stepping up, with the High Level Roundtable “Industry 2030” set to play a significant role.

Perhaps most importantly, it looks like this year will be crunch time for decisions on legislative questions surrounding digital tech and the data economy. Both cybersecurity and data are high on the political agenda, as legislative proposals begin their journey through the European Parliament and Council. The choices made by legislators on these two issues in the coming months will be crucial to the success of the digital revolution: a safe cyberspace is essential to protect economic interests and generate trust in connected ecosystems, while data is and will remain the fuel of the fourth industrial revolution.

Finally, the European debate on artificial intelligence is ramping up: this key enabling technology is already generating efficiency gains across engineering value chains, yet there are concerns that a rush to regulate could nip innovation in the bud. We hope the upcoming Commission Communication on AI will set the right tone, based on an understanding of how these technologies are actually being used today. From discussing issues like this with the associations and companies represented by Orgalime in recent months, I know they will be fully engaged on all fronts. They are committed to making a meaningful contribution to driving these debates forward – not least by demonstrating how developments like AI are already delivering benefits to industry and society alike.

 

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