Brussels, 29 Jun 2004
The Commission-appointed MANUFUTURE High Level Group of experts from industry and research met for the first time in Brussels in June 2004. The objective was to review progress on the development of a shared vision for the future of manufacturing in Europe.
Retention of a strong manufacturing sector is seen as vital to realisation of the Lisbon Council decision to make the EU the world's strongest knowledge-based economy. Surviving on service-providing enterprises alone will not be sufficient.
Manufacturing today represents about 22% of total EU gross national product (GNP) and provides 18% of total employment in the region. However, in the global business environment, Europe faces a growing threat of losing production jobs – especially in the traditional industries – to the lower-wage economies of the world.
The EU response, therefore, must be to transform manufacturing from a resource-based to a knowledge-based activity delivering products of higher added value. This implies a need for radical innovation, which in turn demands increased investment in research. It will also be necessary to improve the public image of manufacturing in order to attract and retain future talent capable of generating and applying the new knowledge.
Following the MANUFUTURE 2003 conference held in Milan on 1 and 2 December 2003 to discuss the development of a strategy to secure the future of manufacturing industry in Europe, the European Commission appointed a High Level Group (HLG) of experts drawn from industry, research and other stakeholders. Its brief, with a six-month duration, was to develop proposals for an approach capable of ensuring the long-term competitiveness and sustainability of a European manufacturing base, through to 2020.
Manufacturing vital to Europe
The HLG held its first meeting on 22 June 2004, under the chairmanship of Ezio Andreta, head of the industrial technologies directorate at the European Commission Research DG. Also present were Information Society DG director Rosalie Zobel, Enterprise DG director David White and Jean-Jacques Mertens, representing the European Investment Bank (EIB). It was a good example, said Dr Andreta, of the Commission practising what it preaches: seeking to adopt a coordinated approach to the solution of a shared problem.
Prior to the meeting, working groups drawn from the panel of experts had independently prepared draft documents reviewing the current situation, outlining the main objectives and proposing recommendations for action under five main headings:
- R&D infrastructure;
- An environment for knowledge-based innovation;
- Education and training;
- Collaboration and coordination; and
- R&D competitiveness and industry's investment.
These contributions were collated into an interim report that formed the basis of the discussions in Brussels.
Dr Andreta and the Commission representatives opened the meeting by underlining the importance of building critical mass in research, avoiding duplication of effort, and boosting investment towards the Barcelona target of 3% of GDP. While the main aim would be to ensure the sustained competitiveness of industry, this should be accompanied by due observation of the environmental and social imperatives, they said. Market-driven innovation, a motivating regulatory climate, entrepreneurial spirit and the involvement of all stakeholders were regarded as essential to achievement of these goals.
Experts from each of the working groups then gave brief presentations of their ideas, which included suggestions for action at EU, Member State and individual stakeholder levels.
Among key proposals were:
- Encourage networking on European, national and regional scale;
- Establish centres of excellence;
- Provide new incentives for innovation and participation in manufacturing;
- Facilitate knowledge sharing and researcher mobility between industry and education;
- Combine technology and marketing/entrepreneurial skills in educational curricula;
- Promote multidisciplinarity and life-long learning;
- Develop a competitive R&D services culture;
- Simplify bureaucracy and the regulatory framework; and
- Create a suitable environment for increased participation by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the formation of start-ups.
In the ensuing discussions, it was agreed that the eventual MANUFUTURE document should present a vision that will the basis for a roadmap and Technology Platform for manufacturing over the next two decades. Dr Andreta invited participants to consider whether this should take the form of an umbrella Platform covering manufacturing as a generic topic, treat the subject in terms of sector-specific issues, or take a 'horizontal' view focusing on the underlying enabling technologies.
Following further deliberations and text revisions, the final version of the report will be published and widely circulated in Autumn 2004, and discussed at the MANUFUTURE 2004 conference in Twente, the Netherlands, on 6 and 7 December 2004. Attendance will be by invitation only.
Industry chairman appointed
The meeting concluded with the unanimous election of Professor Heinrich Flegel, Director of Production Technology at DaimlerChrysler, as Chairman of the HLG.