Effective multimedia event communication – getting the message across

provides a blog from BUSINESSEUROPE Day 2020 (selected panels)


Keynote speech by Mrs Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission
Plenary debate 1: A changing Europe in a changing world
Plenary debate 2: Ensuring industrial leadership and rewarding innovation in fast evolving value chains
Plenary debate 3: Implementing the Green Deal in partnership with industry
Speech by Mr Paolo Gentiloni, Commissioner for the Economy, European Commission
Panel debate 1: Meeting skills and social needs on changing labour markets
In conversation Mr Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission and Mr Markus J. Beyrer, Director General of BusinessEurope

Keynote speech by Mrs Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday she was “absolutely confident” that Europe would remain a global player in the world of tomorrow and pledged to help businesses lead change and stay competitive.

In a keynote speech at the BusinessEurope Day conference in Brussels, Mrs von der Leyen said the Commission would introduce its Industry Strategy and SME Strategy next week to follow its recently announced European Green Deal and Digital Strategy.

Outlining the new plans for industry, she said Europe needed to invest in its single market which had the economies of scale and the purchasing power to match the US and China.

“The challenge for us now is to truly digitise the single market,” she said. “We have to invest in a new network of digital innovation hubs all over Europe.”

The EU was funding the next generation of European data storage units and super computers to exploit the enormous potential embedded in the vast amounts of data that currently went unused.

“Right now, medical researchers profit from using the potential of the supercomputers in Barcelona and Bologna to find a cure to the coronavirus,” said Mrs von der Leyen.

Europe, she said, needed to turn away from the old model of using resources from the environment to create products that would eventually get turned into waste. “Our current linear production methods are responsible for huge quantities of greenhouse gas emissions.”

The continent needed to move to circular models of production to achieve climate neutrality. The cost of producing mobile phones could be cut by 50 percent if the industry made them easier to take apart and if incentives were offered to turn them back in for recycling. High-end washing machines could be leased to households to create an incentive to develop longer lasting machines.

In addition to the environmental reason for developing a circular economy, there was also a major economic reason, because Europe imports over half the resources it consumes, she said. That was expensive, exposed companies to price fluctuations and made Europe dependent on third parties for essential raw materials.

Mrs von der Leyen also pledged to revise Europe’s competition rules to ensure they continued to be suitable for today’s world. “If we want to give incentives for fossil-free production, we cannot accept that carbon-heavy products are re-imported from abroad at the same time. This is neither sustainable nor is it fair to our industry.”

The Commission was committed to developing a carbon equalisation mechanism, she said. “Yesterday, I launched our impact assessment for that. All relevant sectors will be consulted in the most transparent and inclusive manner.”

The Commission was also ready to counteract subsidies that distort competition, not only in member states but also in the event of such subsidies being adopted by trading partners around the world.

“Without question, we want to remain open to foreign investment, but there has to be a certain level of reciprocity. The same rights foreign companies enjoy within our borders, European companies should also enjoy abroad. I think this is a matter of fairness.”

The European Battery Alliance was an example of the continent’s ambition to master the key technologies of tomorrow. “Thanks to this alliance, the most innovative, long-lasting and clean batteries for electric cars will soon be manufactured in Europe.”

The use of hydrogen to produce clean steel, 5G networks, AI-driven diagnostics in the medical sector, the industrial Internet of Things were mentioned as examples of technologies that would be crucial to Europe’s prosperity and security in the future.

“This is not just an investment in our competitiveness. It is also an investment in our sovereignty.”

The Commission, she said, would assist companies in making the necessary investments in new technologies and in creating leading markets for those technologies.

Europe was one of the global leaders with regard to hydrogen filling stations and fuel cell buses thanks to the partnership the Commission had forged with the private sector on hydrogen.

“We are now ready to expand this very positive model of innovation with a new generation of impact-driven public private partnerships supported by the EU budget. We want to stimulate investment and we want innovation all along the value chain.”

A stable and predictable political environment was key to fostering investment, she added.

“We as the European Union have an essential role to play, with investment, with regulations and with incentives. But it’s Europe’s business that must lead the transition. The only way to find solutions that work for all is to create them together.”

Plenary debate 1: A changing Europe in a changing world


How to shape and adapt to the emerging new global order so that it delivers for Europe, its enterprises and citizens?

Opening the panel, moderator Jacki Davis, a journalist with Meade Davis Communications, asked Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission’s Vice-President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight, to share some insights from his forthcoming Foresight Report. Mr Šefčovič emphasized the ambition of the new Commission for the EU to continue to be one of the top three global economies, not just in the immediate future but also beyond 2030. “It would not only have geopolitical implications if we were not there,” Šefčovič reasoned, “but it would also have consequences for our social model – we simply need to be competitive to be socially equitable.”

Low growth and high unemployment figures, not just in her native Britain but also in some regions of Europe, had led to a sense of being unfairly treated among parts of the continent’s population, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, Director General of the Confederation of British Industry, CBI, said. This challenge could only be met if businesses ensured that their decisions equally benefitted all of the continent’s communities. One way of doing so, Fairbairn said, was to foster innovation, while another was to train individual citizens in the skills required for the future: “We need a centenary partnership between the private and the public sector in order to make this transformation work for people and communities throughout our countries,” she said.

According to Steffen Kampeter, CEO of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations, BDA, political priorities of the new European Commission over the next few years will mainly be dictated by social and environmental issues. However, he identified competitiveness as an essential prerequisite for anything else planned by the Commission. “We have to bring competitiveness back to the top of the agenda.” One way of doing that, he added, was to create a feasible business case for the European Green Deal.

In the eyes of Pekka Lundmark, President of the Confederation of Finnish Industries, EK, the global rise of issues such as populism, protectionism and unilateralism challenges Europe’s central values. Lundmark reckons that the core European idea is endangered: a free market economy implemented in a way that is socially and environmentally sustainable. “It’s more important than ever for Europe to stay united – we need free trade,” he said. Although significant steps still needed to be taken in terms of both the internal European market as well as various international trade agreements, there were also huge opportunities, he said.

For Dita Charanzová, Vice-President of the European Parliament, the best strategy for the EU in terms of international trade is to simply go on as before. The bloc had always been advocating a multi-lateral rule-based system, she said. However, recent developments such as protectionist tendencies in the United States had left it somewhat isolated. “We have to continue to fight for the rule-based system,” Charanzová said. New trade agreements such as the one with Vietnam, which was recently approved by the European Parliament, could be one approach, she said. However, potential future deals could be jeopardised by a lack of public support, she said: “We need to get citizens more involved.”

H.E. Kazuo Kodama, the Ambassador of Japan to the European Union, believes that better international co-operation and coordination is required to uphold – and possibly update – the multi-lateral trade system. He suggested that the EU, with its considerable regulatory powers, could lead the way towards an international approach that includes China. “But please continue to consult outside the EU, with countries such as the US and Japan,” he cautioned. If a trilateral trade structure could be constructed in this manner, then like-minded countries such as Canada, Australia or New Zealand could also be convinced to join the effort. With the support of the WTO, countries such as China, Brazil, South Africa or Russia could subsequently be motivated to come forward.

Plenary debate 2: Ensuring industrial leadership and rewarding innovation in fast evolving value chains

How to deliver an industrial strategy, digitalisation, sound competition and a truly integrated Single Market to strengthen Europe’s position in global value chains? How to foster impactful investment in innovation and protect intellectual property effectively to be competitive globally?

Europe needs to ramp up private sector investment in digital research and development, provide easier access to funding for market innovations, harmonize patent laws and counteract the forced technology transfer to China, industry experts told the BusinessEurope Day conference in Brussels on Thursday.

Panelists who joined the plenary debate on ensuring industrial leadership and rewarding innovation in fast evolving value chains agreed that the continent is on the brink of an industrial renaissance that creates opportunities.

“It’s time to go for it and to recapture some leadership positions that we may have lost and at the same time safeguard what we have,” said Jean-Marc Ollagnier, CEO Europe of Accenture.

Europe was still a scientific powerhouse on a global scale with 1.8 million researchers and a 25 percent share in global research and innovation expenditure, said Wolfgang Burtscher, Deputy Director General of DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission. “But we don’t do so well in terms of translating this into innovation.”

Europe had only one “unicorn”, defined as a privately held startup company valued at over USD 1 billion, compared to eight in the US and four in China, and Europe’s global share of patents has been decreasing in recent years, Mr Burtscher said.

The Commission’s stated agenda on environmental, industrial and economic policy “has all the ingredients in terms of regulation, financing and research to quickly propel us forward,” he said.

Beat Weibel, Head of Corporate Intellectual Property Group at Siemens, said Europe was strong on generating energy from green sources, public transport and the Internet of Things, but had fallen behind on artificial intelligence and cloud technology.

“As a single market, we need a harmonized, unified approach in terms of intellectual property,” said Mr Weidel, adding that efforts to create a unified European patent law and patent court had ground to a halt.

He also called for free trade agreements to be negotiated to overcome a forced technology transfer to China. “Imagine if Siemens were still in the field of communication technology and we were a supplier of 5G technology to China: we would be forced to transfer technology to that country. But is Huawei forced to transfer its technology to Europe? No. I think this is not a level playing field and I would expect the Industrial Strategy to also tackle that.”

Europe also needs to strengthen its single market to compete with the US and China, panelists said.

Heiko Willems, Head of Department at the German Business Representation of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) in Brussels, said the European single market was backward with regard to the services, digital and energy sectors. Germany and other major EU economies needed to do more to open their markets to Europe. “We have to push our governments to think European.”

Mr. Ollagnier of Accenture said: “A decade of revolution is ahead of us. We need governments, citizens, the business sector and academics to share that vision, because this is the best business opportunity I have ever seen. We just need to seize it.”

Plenary debate 3: Implementing the Green Deal in partnership with industry


How to take care of the planet whilst strengthening our economy and ensuring public acceptance?

The European Green Deal will fundamentally transform businesses throughout the continent – a panel of experts at the BusinessEurope Day 2020 agreed that the policy would have numerous potential ramifications and present companies with both challenges and opportunities.

Kadri Simson, Commissioner for Energy in the new European Commission believes that in essence, the Green Deal is an opportunity for growth. Energy and industry would play a leading role in the transition processes initiated by the policy, she said, identifying four key areas where she expects major advances. Apart from the development of hydrogen as a renewable energy source, these are the energy rehabilitation of buildings on a substantial scale, a pan-European drive to promote better energy efficiency as well as convincing other major carbon-emitting countries to follow the EU’s example. “By pooling our resources and efforts, significant positive change may be achieved for the industrial sector in Europe,” she concluded.

The sentiment was echoed by Saori Dubourg, Member of the Board of Executive Directors at BASF SE: “The deal will only be successful if we jointly tackle the challenges.” Very specific collaborative roadmaps were required, she said, to define approaches for issues including investment and infrastructure needs, energy requirements, industry contributions in the fields of technology and innovation, incentives and concrete business cases.

Emma Marcegaglia, President of ENI, welcomed the Green Deal, calling it a “good move”. However, she said the policy must be implemented in a pragmatic fashion. “It’s very important that we strongly focus on what companies are doing and what their skills are. In addition, we need to develop the necessary technologies or the deal will not happen.” Marcegaglia also cautioned against additional regulation being imposed on businesses as a result of the Green Deal.

In the view of Fredrik Persson, President of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, SN, the Green Deal means that both the EU and business federations throughout the continent now have the same target: achieving climate neutrality by 2050. However, Persson expressed concern that decreasing emissions and ongoing economic growth would be very difficult to achieve simultaneously: “My fear is that (…) we might actually lose the Europeans if they see decreasing prosperity.” It was therefore key, Persson added, to be able to deliver equally on both aspects.

Mr Maciej Witucki, President of the Polish Confederation Lewiatan, praised the new European Commission for what he called its “positive energy”. He called on the continent’s business leaders to be proactive and focused with regards to the implementation of the Green Deal. “Let’s convince the Members of the Parliament to vote on something that’s not only concrete but also helpful for businesses,” he said. “Let’s not wait for laws and criticize them afterwards.”

Speech by Mr Paolo Gentiloni, Commissioner for the Economy, European Commission


In his speech during the BusinessEurope Day 2020, Mr Paolo Gentiloni not only addressed the priorities he sees for the European Commission, but also commented on the new, “short and longer term” challenges that Europe is facing with the outbreak of the coronavirus.

He said the defining challenge for the new European Commission was “to keep our planet and people healthy.” Gentiloni stressed the importance of the EU Green Deal by stating that it was not only the roadmap towards achieving climate neutrality by 2050 but also a tremendous economic opportunity for businesses. With regard to the implementation of the Green Deal he mentioned taxation as a powerful tool for changing the behaviour of both consumers and businesses. “Using taxation, we will help reduce carbon emissions and promote more sustainable choices.”

However, Europe’s current framework for taxation was far from green, he admitted. “In fact, some of the most polluting fuels are taxed the least.” For that reason, the commission is working on an energy taxation directive and a carbon equalisation mechanism – both issues being very complex and time-consuming.

“The green transition, the decarbonisation of our energy systems, mobilizing the industry for the circular economy, the renovation of buildings, changes in our attitudes towards fuels and shifting to sustainable and smart mobility: the investment needs are enormous and will require an ambitious mobilisation of both public and private financing,” Gentiloni said. “The EU Green Deal investment plan which I presented in January will mobilise sustainable investments over the next decade, but we have to work to further facilitate public investments to further strengthen this plan.”

Reforms were needed to invest into tangible and intangible capital, to increase productivity. “The EU has all the assets to make the most of the digital transition. We must move first on the future technologies with the most potential while ensuring the European approach is human, ethical and value-based. Investments to facilitate this transformation towards an environmentally sustainable and digital economy should be coupled with investments into education and skills,” Gentiloni said, adding: “We will need to support those transitions to ensure that citizens are supported in adapting to the change the labour market needs, particularly in the sectors and regions lagging behind.”

The Commissioner further mentioned a new framework which will pave the way for easier EU fiscal growth to facilitate investments, especially in our main future areas of challenge. “For the EU to become the engine of prosperity and stability for all its member states, we will need to go beyond what has been achieved so far,” he said.

Gentiloni continued by stating that the developments with regard to the outbreak of the coronavirus “are a clear reminder of the need to coordinate our actions. We need to recognize one of the consequences of this outbreak is the rediscovery of the importance of multilateralism to address global challenges.” Therefore, the European Commission will analyse all incoming data to have the best possible sense of the emerging impact of the virus on the European economy.

Broader action including fiscal measures will be needed to fulfil the requirements of the EU healthcare systems and to guarantee the liquidity of enterprises to avoid serious losses of jobs in the affected sectors. “Europe needs to increase its efforts. Facing the consequences of the coronavirus should be a wake-up call for the coordination of our fiscal policies to reassure and protect our enterprises, our workers and all European citizens,” he concluded.

Panel debate 1: Meeting skills and social needs on changing labour markets

How to tackle skills gaps and mismatches, equip people for the modern economy, support them in the transition and boost job creation to provide opportunities for all?

Europe faces a “social time bomb” if it doesn’t provide workers with more opportunities to reskill and upskill within a rapidly changing economic environment, labour experts told the BusinessEurope Day 2020 conference in Brussels on Thursday.

The continent needs to follow the example of Germany, Austria and the Nordic countries, where employers and employees arrange vocational training by way of collective bargaining, said panelists of a plenary debate on how to meet skills and social needs in changing labour markets. The countries mentioned above had the world’s lowest youth unemployment rates.

Alain Dehaze, CEO of The Adecco Group, suggested legislative changes to provide companies with financial incentives to invest in reskilling their workers rather than firing them and hiring new people with the required skills.

Under present accounting rules, corporate spending on training employees was treated as a cost rather than an investment into human capital, Mr Dehaze said. If training were recognised as an investment, companies would be able to amortise the related expenses.

Another way to encourage spending on retraining would be to adopt a differentiated tax treatment of layoff costs and reskilling investments, he said.

“It is quite incredible how many press releases we have seen over the last years with the first paragraph saying ‘we are laying off thousands of people,’ and the second paragraph saying ‘we are hiring so and so many people with this and that skill’,” Mr. Dehaze told the panel.

Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, agreed that spending on skills should be treated as an investment in terms of taxation and of accounting. He said the German and Nordic practice of arranging vocational training through collective bargaining should be encouraged across Europe.

“We have to develop this, not because it’s a good German or Nordic model, but because it’s a model that works,” he said.

Studies showed that recruiting new staff costs three times more than training employees, said Per Hilmersson, Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

He said that even though the European economy was growing, there was still a lot of social inequality as well as a gender pay gap, youth unemployment and a lot of precarious work, with one in ten workers at risk of poverty. In addition, some studies stated that half of today’s work could be automated by 2055.

Trends were causing disillusionment and feeding populist, anti-European and extreme right-wing sentiment, Mr Hilmersson warned. “This is not just a challenge for the labour markets, it’s a challenge to our democratic societies, and the European Union as such.”

Peter Clever, a member of the Executive Board of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations, highlighted the need for self-motivation. “Workers have to enable themselves,” he said, adding: “Of course we will give assistance, we will pay for it.”

He said that low-skilled workers were the most heavily affected by economic change and had the lowest reskilling rates. “They receive repeated offers, but there is a lack of motivation.” He advocated exerting “a bit of pressure” by inviting them to join reskilling programmes and telling them, “if you don’t accept the invitation, there will be no further aid for you.”

Mr Schmit acknowledged that the rapidly changing working environment was causing widespread anxiety. It was up to employers and employees to identify the skills required and to arrange the required training. Policymakers were ready to support them. Lifelong learning should be regarded as an opportunity, not a constraint, he said.

In conversation Mr Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission and Mr Markus J. Beyrer, Director General of BusinessEurope


The European Union stands ready to use the full range of tools at its disposal in reaction to the spread of the Covid-19 virus, including fiscal tools. That’s how, at the conclusion of the BusinessEurope Day 2020, Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, summarised the EU’s response to the current outbreak of the coronavirus in a conversation with Markus J. Beyrer, Director General of BusinessEurope.

The outbreak comes amidst an economic slowdown that had already started to negatively impact growth forecasts. “For a number of EU countries, the negative effects are starting to show,” Dombrovskis said. But the bloc is also facing more long-term challenges. One of them, Dombrovskis and Beyrer agreed, was the question of how the EU can ensure ongoing economic prosperity while at the same time successfully implementing a green transformation. Others, according to the Executive Vice-President, concern the digital revolution and the issue of demographic change.

Citing insights from the European Commission’s 2019 Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy, Dombrovskis said the green and digital transitions would have a moderately positive impact on both the economy and employment figures. “It’s a complex endeavour, but we think at the end of the day it’s also an opportunity for the European economy,” he said. “It is our intention to work closely with our business community and our industries.”

According to Dombrovskis, the Commission’s forthcoming industrial and SME strategies – due to be published next week – will contain a wealth of measures intended to successfully manage the green and digital transformations. In addition, he announced a number of proposals for the reduction of trade barriers on the European Single Market. He also said there would be a new system to analyse the trade bloc’s various industrial ecosystems as a means of assessing the diverse risks and needs of start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises as well as large corporations.

The European business community, according to Markus Beyrer, has for some years been calling for a more reliable way of measuring whether policy decisions taken are strategically sound: “For the time being, what we have is a system of indicators that is much too long-term – it doesn’t tell us anything.” Dombrovskis agreed, promising that the EU’s industrial strategy would feature annual performance assessments in the future. “We not only need to prepare the strategy,” he reasoned. “We need to implement it, we need to measure whether it is working and we need to adjust it where necessary.”

With regard to small and medium-sized enterprises, Dombrovskis announced the establishment of a dedicated fund to support initial public offerings by SMEs as part of the Capital Markets Union. This would enable them to easier and more effectively access capital markets and make them less reliant on banks for financing.

The EU would not remain a global player without working towards that goal, Dombrovskis said in conclusion. “However, if we are successful at implementing our strategies (…) and if we do our homework, for example by finalising the economic and monetary union, then I am confident we can achieve that goal.”