Our German national soccer team has shown the way. It won the recent World Cup tournament with team spirit, willpower and a clear goal – and this same strategy could help make the European Union a winner again, too.
The 28 member states sometimes lack order and unity, but it’s clear that only together will they survive in competition with Asia and the United States. The start of a new legislative session for the European Parliament and Commission offers Europe the opportunity to switch the economic policy back toward growth.
The top priority should be strengthening how the European Union competes. To do this, we need to improve the performance of member states, and we must continue on a path of consolidating budgets and press ahead with reforms.
A further goal is to revitalize the industrial core. The industrial sector makes up a good 15 percent of the EU economy. Despite recurring plans of action that stress industry’s importance, Europe lacks a coherent industrial policy. The results are visible. For many of Germany’s neighbors, the industrial portion of gross domestic product has been declining: Between 2008 and 2012, the number of manufacturing jobs fell from 33 million to 30 million.
This is where Jean-Claude Juncker must steer in the opposite direction. The president-elect of the European Commission has announced a concept to reindustrialize Europe – a commitment that hopefully will be followed by action.
It is not the state itself that creates growth and jobs, but rather successful and strong exporting companies, especially small- to medium-size businesses.
One illusion must finally be overcome: It is not the state itself that creates growth and jobs, but rather successful and strong exporting companies, especially small- to medium-size businesses. Targeted investment in research and development is also needed. Europe’s chain of industrial value creation must be preserved, bureaucracy must be reduced and labor laws eased.
All of these are important building blocks of a stable economic foundation. But to make the European house weatherproof over time, the entire architecture must be right. Under the roof of guiding principles and stronger competition, the house needs supporting columns that provide the necessary footing for the overall objective.
This means two things: First, there must be a clear division of work between European government in Brussels and the member states. The European Union should concentrate on core tasks instead of losing itself in trifling details. Part of this is integrating key sectors. We need cross-border energy networks and a digital domestic market. An open and liberal trade policy should concentrate on important markets.
Second, the organization of the European Union itself should be directed toward goals of growth and jobs. Key issues should be bundled together and forged into overall concepts by governing officials. Agencies should coordinate their work so cost-efficient regulations can be passed. Above all, it is important that environmental and economic factors be brought into balance. Only when industrial policy goals are placed on equal footing with environmental protection goals will they be believable.
It is true in soccer – as it is in politics – that the best tactics only work when the team implements them. Members of the European Union, however, have far too often played with different goals. That’s why it is crucial that the president of the European Commission and the member states put people who will always seek to strengthen competitiveness in key positions.
In the interest of Europe, the competence of candidates, and not national or regional interests, should be the deciding factor. If Europe does it this way, like the World Cup champions, it will, kick the winning goal – for a peaceful, free Europe with prosperity and jobs.
Matthias Wissmann is president of the German Association of the Automobile Industry (VDA), and vice president of the Federation of German Industries (BDI). He can be reached at email@example.com.