On March 6th (the day attended a breakfast briefing on the proposed EU/US trade deal) I had lunch with CEMBUREAU http://www.cembureau.be/. This is the European Cement Association. And we heard another Commission Director General, this time Daniel Calleja Crespo, of DG Enterprise and Industry, telling us about his exciting plans for the reindustrialisation of Europe. To the existing 20-20-20 project (20% reduction in emissions, and 20% renewables, by 2020) he adds another “20″. He wants to increase manufacturing from its current 16% of EU GDP to 20% by (you guessed it) 2020. If it’s anything like as successful as the previous EU plan to turn Europe into “the world’s most competitive knowledge economy” by 2010, I’d say — don’t hold your breath.
He ridiculed those who used to say that “the best industrial policy is no industrial policy”, and he set out his own industrial policy. It seemed to be a wish-list of motherhood-and-apple-pie desiderata, with no real plan for delivery. I scribbled as fast as I could, and I got Investment/Innovation; Better Market Access; Access to Finance; Skills Development. And Manufacturing; Key Enabling Technologies; Sustainable Construction; Clean Vehicles; Smart Grids. I may have missed a couple.
Still no plans for delivery. The industry, and the Boston Consulting Group, who presented their study on the industry, identified major problems including high energy prices, and excessive regulation and regulatory uncertainty. The Commission understood the problem, but had no practical response.
I said that I still held the view that the best industrial policy was no industrial policy. The job of regulators was not to prescribe how industry should work, and still less to pick winners. It was, on the other hand, to identify and remove the barriers to growth and investment. We don’t need to teach the grass to grow. Just get the rocks off the lawn.
There is a glimmer of hope. The Commission has a programme of “Fitness Tests”, which will look at established regulation, and consider whether it’s working, and whether it should be repealed or amended. They’ll be Fitness-Testing the 2009 Climate & Energy Package. But I suspect they won’t be repealing it.