The EU lacks a competitiveness agenda and a plan to develop the EU Single Market. This is worrying because competitiveness, growth, and the Single Market are at the very heart of the strength and added value of the EU. That’s the message from Anna Stellinger, Deputy Director General and Head of International and EU affairs at Swedish Enterprise.
It’s 30 years since Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist James Carville formulated the famous phrase “It’s the economy, stupid!” – a reminder to Clinton’s campaign team about what really mattered to voters. Along with a couple of other messages, this succeeded in turning public opinion and brought victory for Clinton.
Today, a similar plea – replacing “economy” with “competitiveness” – needs to be made to Ursula von der Leyen and the EU. We need to remember how important competitiveness is for jobs, businesses, and prosperity.
Competitiveness is our greatest strength – a strong EU does not need to turn inwards
A strong EU is a competitive EU – one that promotes innovation and research, attracts investment, deepens the Single Market, and makes the EU resilient when the world faces uncertain times. Because the world is facing uncertain times and will continue to do so. The global outlook risks being challenging and uncertain for many years ahead. Competitiveness is the EU’s greatest strength – a strong EU does not need to inwards, isolate itself to be protected from the outside world.
All this should be a matter of course. But the EU has no competitiveness agenda. Nor is there a growth agenda or a plan to develop the internal market. Among all the strategies, plans and road maps, there is a void.
This is worrying, to put it mildly. The three ingredients – competitiveness, growth, and the internal market – are at the heart of the strength and added value of the EU.
Focus has instead been on an ever-growing number of legislation in other areas. Quite rightly, a lot of effort has been devoted to climate, the environment and digital transformation. But the green and digital transition must take place in a cost-effective way that promotes entrepreneurship and innovation. For example, the EU’s climate goals must be combined with growth.
Considerable emphasis within the EU is also placed on social issues – with proposals on minimum wages, pay transparency, platform work and other areas, with the foundation being laid for a legally-based EU labour market model that defies the Swedish collective agreement model. Equalising social security systems and labour market models across a heterogeneous Europe with contrasting historical traditions is not an area where the EU provides added value.
The green transition must take place in a cost-effective way that promotes entrepreneurship and innovation.
In the area of trade – where the EU negotiates on behalf of the member states – market access, free trade agreements and growth have dropped down the list of priorities on the agenda. Trade serves a wide range of purposes, but the EU’s current trade policy agenda does not even include global competitiveness as an overarching goal.
When Sweden’s EU Minister Hans Dahlgren spoke in the Swedish parliament recently and outlined the direction for the Swedish Presidency of the EU in 2023, competitiveness for future jobs was mentioned. This is a welcome message and should be Sweden’s approach irrespective of the colour of Sweden’s future government, after the general elections in September, for the EU Presidency.
The answer to the EU’s future goes hand-in-hand with what should be the focus the Swedish EU Presidency. It is not increased state aid, nor social pillars or more defensive instruments. Rather, you guessed it, it’s the competitiveness, stupid!
Anna Stellinger, Deputy Director General and Head of International and EU affairs at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise.EUEU Single Market