Last week, the European Council called for comprehensive industrial strategy for Europe by 2030, noting among other things, increasing global competition. The call is timely. China has recently adopted the most ambitious industrial strategy in history, known as Made in China 2025. This strategy aims to make China a world leader in 10 industries, including robotics, aerospace, pharmaceuticals and artificial intelligence.
This has not gone unnoticed in the West. Many dislike Donald Trump’s China policy (a trade war is an industrial strategy of sorts, even if a self-defeating one), but still fear that the West’s leadership in high technology and complex manufacturing (think Silicon Valley or German machine tools) is under serious threat. Industrial Strategy is not normally an issue to set the pulse racing, but now, in 2019, it is becoming one of the most important issues of our time.
Industrial strategy is tricky for the EU. Unlike China, with its strong concentration of political power, and clear sense of economic purpose, the EU’s power is diffuse and its interests at times conflicting. Many times in my years in Brussels I have heard the demand that the ‘EU must do this…the EU must do that’, sometimes oblivious to the limits of EU competences and the realities of European politics. EU industrial strategy is never going to be on the level of Made in China 2025. And while, for example, EU funded research and investment programmes are helpful, the EU has a much stronger reputation as a regulatory superpower than a facilitator of ground-breaking innovation. It is perhaps because the EU can regulate, but its influence over broader industrial goals is more constrained, that it has an inherent and sometime harmful tendency to think more in terms of rules than of growth.
But we need to start thinking differently. Many industry organisations are calling for a more positive approach to industrial strategy, including Cosmetics Europe. Our Partnership for Change initiative, which will be launched during the Cosmetics Europe Annual Conference next week, sets out our vision of a future which will allow our industry to prosper.
Partnership is key to this, because maximising Europe’s industrial potential is a challenge for all stakeholders, and we as an industry cannot take this agenda forward alone. Change because the challenge lies not just in a rapidly evolving external environment, but also in our ability to adapt our policies and institutions accordingly. The promotion of innovation and skills, the strengthening of the single market, and an approach to regulation which nurtures economic development, (to name just three) all need to be the benchmarks by which we assess Europe’s readiness to meet the coming challenges.
Flagship European industries like cosmetics and personal care should be at the centre of an EU industrial strategy. Our industry is a European success story. ‘Made in Europe’ continues to mean quality and prestige in our sector. Let’s keep it that way.
John Chave, Director General, Cosmetics Europe