Between 2008 and 2012, 6.8 million jobs in construction and industry were lost across the EU, according to BusinessEurope. Heavy industries like steel and chemicals say much can be achieved by adjusting existing policies on energy and climate which they claim has been destructive.
After a year of closures, sackings and cut-backs, arguments about how to turn European industry around will be to the fore this year as debate intensifies around the correct policy response, and doubts linger over the EU’s ability to deliver.
A fall in the demand for steel of 8% during 2012 saw permanent closures of furnaces across Northern Europe, whilst others were mothballed in an attempt to stave off further closures.
European steelmakers have written down major investments as the supply of steel and nonferrous metals products continues to outweigh demand, reflected in results for key steel-users such as the automobile sector.
French carmaker Renault’s decision on 15 January to cut 7,500 French jobs by 2016, followed similar announcements affecting the European operations of Fiat, Ford, General Motors, Opel and Peugeot.
Between 2008 and 2012, 6.8 million jobs in construction and industry were lost across the EU, according to BusinessEurope, the group representing the member states’ largest business federations.
“The severity of the crisis is producing a painful hangover,” said the group’s director-general, Markus Beyrer.
Antonio Tajani, European commissioner for industry, in October acknowledged “we’ve made mistakes in the past, we’ve let industry and SMEs fend for themselves for too long,” as he presented a review and re-launch of the Commission’s ‘Integrated Industrial Policy for the Globalisation Era’, first launched in 2010.
Commission response seeks pre-crisis industry levels
Tajani declared the aim to raise industrial activity to 20% of EU gross domestic product by 2020, compared to 16% today, taking it back up to pre-crisis levels.
The strategy sets out six priorities for short-term action: advanced manufacturing technologies, key enabling technologies, bio-based products, construction and raw materials, clean vehicles, and smart grids.
This approach was subsequently endorsed by the European Parliament and Council, responding in part to growing disquiet in the member states that the EU has paid a lot of attention to austerity, but made little effort to open markets to stimulate investment and growth.
Doubts remain, however, about the EU executive’s ability to deliver on the aim, but also about its underlying diagnosis. […]
“A future oriented Industrial Policy … has to be based on research and education, and industrial policy merges with innovation policy,” said Professor Karl Aiginger of the Austrian Institute of Economic Research.
But these future-oriented programmes are threatened by a reduction of up to 50% in the ongoing negotiations surrounding the EU’s future budget.
However, heavy industries like steel and chemicals say much can be achieved by adjusting existing policies on energy and climate which they claim has been destructive.