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Remarks by Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis at the press conference on the Launch of Updated EU Industrial Strategy

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 5 mei 2021.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Over a year ago, we launched the EU Industrial Strategy, our blueprint for transforming our economy along green and digital lines.

Then, Covid-19 happened.

The pandemic presented unprecedented challenges. We witnessed a huge shock to our societies and economy. But we also witnessed the resilience and adaptability of Europe's people and industry.

Now, we are updating our industrial strategy, applying the knowledge we have accumulated during the pandemic, drawing on lessons learned and the available evidence.

First of all, let me say that the main principles and actions of the 2020 industrial strategy remain fully valid.

So what has changed because of the COVID- 19 pandemic?

Three factors have influenced our thinking:

First, the pandemic has highlighted some fragilities in our Single Market when exposed to particular types of disruption.

Second, there has been a growing trend in many jurisdictions to analyse vulnerabilities in key strategic value chains. EU Member States have asked the Commission to do the same.

And third, the business case for the green and digital transitions has become even stronger. The digital transition in particular was accelerated by the crisis.

The updated industrial strategy responds to these factors.

We put forward a Single Market Emergency Instrument, to deal with future crises like Covid-19.

It is critical that in tandem with the new instruments proposed, we continue to address long-standing barriers and restrictions to the good functioning of the Single Market.

I will give a couple of examples:

  • A perennial problem for SMEs is late payments, which even in good times put companies out of business. The problem has been made even worse by the crisis. So, in addition to reinforcing the monitoring of late payments, we will also try to shorten disputes between the companies involved.
  • Companies consistently tell us that it is an administrative headache to send staff, such as engineers, to another country, say to work on a building site. We will work with Member States to devise a common form, in electronic format, to make the posting of workers easier, without compromising on protection for workers. To start, this could be introduced on a voluntary basis.
  • And we must continue to knock down those hard-wired barriers that persist within the Single Market. That means for example getting serious about enforcement of the Services Directive and making sure that Member States comply with their existing obligations.

Maintaining a level playing field is essential both at the global level and within the EU.

But there are still gaps that have to be closed.

So I thank my colleagues Vestager and Breton for their joint work to bring forward legislation tackling distortions created by foreign subsidies in the single market.

The regulation we are proposing today reflects, on the one hand, our continued openness to trade and investment as a source of strength and competitiveness.

On the other hand, it highlights our willingness to defend ourselves assertively from unfair and distortive practices by third countries.

As Trade Commissioner, I have followed closely the screening of our strategic dependencies in global value chains.

Let me first say that openness to trade and investment is vital for our growth and resilience, given our position as a leading global importer and exporter.

Nevertheless, it is true that some pandemic disruptions caught Europe by surprise, notably in the health sector.

So there is a need to get a better grasp of where the EU's strategic dependencies lie, how they may develop in the future and how to prevent them from developing.

The Commission has carried out a “bottom-up analysis” based on trade data, which provides first insights.

Out of 5,200 products imported into the EU, our analysis identified 137 products for which the EU is highly dependent. This represents 6% of the total value of imported goods.

About half of imports for these dependent products originate in China, followed by Vietnam and Brazil.

For most of these products, industry itself is best placed to reduce dependencies, for example, through diversification of suppliers.

I know that our business leaders have this firmly on their radar.

However, of this group, 34 products representing 0.6% of the total value of imported goods are potentially more vulnerable, given their low potential for further diversification or substitution with EU production.

Of course, this is only a preliminary analysis, and we need to consult with Member States and industry on these findings.

For me, the political message emerging from this analysis is clear:

Yes, we have to address today's dependencies in an efficient and targeted manner. And we have to work with our likeminded partners to strengthen the resilience of our supply chains.

However, our biggest challenge lies in preventing the strategic dependencies of tomorrow, especially for inputs and advanced technologies that will be vital to the green and digital transitions.

For example, this includes batteries, semiconductors, critical raw materials and hydrogen. Clearly, we have to build up our critical capacities in these areas.

The Commission is preparing to launch two industrial alliances in the digital field: the Alliance on processors and semiconductor technologies, and the Alliance for Industrial Data, Edge and Cloud.

We are also considering the preparation of an Alliance on Space Launchers and an Alliance on Zero Emission Aviation, to complement the Renewable and Low-Carbon Fuels Alliance, which is also under consideration.

Thierry will speak more about the role of these alliances.

But it is also clear that technology leadership goes hand in hand with leadership in standard-setting. This is why we will present a strategy on standardisation. The objective is to take a more assertive stance on European interests in this area.

At the same time, we will seek cooperation with likeminded partners around the world, in order to lead the global conversation on standard-setting and future regulation.

Thank you.

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