New global economic and ecological challenges are leading European industry to change its practices to remain competitive. The sector is faced with the need to innovate, in order to remain one of the world leaders, but also, at the same time, to integrate the environmental and digital dimension.
The industrial sector in decline
The industrial sector is an essential economic sector on the European scene. Declining in recent years, industry in the EU now accounts for around 19% of GDP in 2018. However, this trend is not specific to the EU : it also reaches the United States, China and Russia.
Although the sector has become more fragile over the years, industrial production still is important in the European and global economy: it exceeds Chinese industrial production and follows the United States’ one.
EU action for a competitive industry
Even if industrial policy is still a prerogative of the EU Member States, the EU still has a role to play: in order to compensate its production decrease and improve outputs and processes, the EU is committed by providing considerable financial support in this area. Despite the fact that the current programmes promote cooperation between States, the procedures are too long and complex for some candidates (start-ups, etc.).
To this end, the EU implements several financing tools, including the European Regional Development Fund, which supports SME development and research and innovation in various sectors, the LIFE programme for adaptation to climate change, energy consumption reduction and, above all, the Horizon 2020 research programme. With a budget of 80 billion euros for 2014-2020, Horizon 2020 finances numerous industrial research projects under various topics. Among them:
- Nanotechnologies, Advanced Materials, Biotechnology and Advanced Manufacturing Processes (NMBP) ;
- Cross-cutting activities.
Under these topics, three calls for proposals are currently open:
- Transforming European industry: for the integration of digitisation and other technologies for global industrial leadership. This call will fund projects such as quality control in intelligent manufacturing (€100 million – deadline 14th May 2020);
- Competitive low-carbon industries: develop innovative production systems and business models (resource efficiency, waste management). This call will finance projects such as industrial water recycling (€97.5 million – deadline 5th February 2020);
- Foundations for tomorrow’s industry: to lay the foundations for tomorrow’s industry in Europe and create jobs through an innovation ecosystem for the design, development, testing and improvement of advanced materials and nanotechnologies. This call will finance projects such as the creation of an open market for industrial data (€4 million – deadline 14th May 2020).
Through these actions, the EU shows its willingness to support the policies of the Member States, but above all to consolidate its position as a world leader in the industrial sector. While European funding supports industrial research, there is still the isseu of supporting existing industries in order to make them more competitive and sustainable. Indeed, if the EU appears, through its financial instruments, to be protecting the sector, it is difficult to consider that European industry can really compete with its global competitors without real action beyond the financial framework.