Fourth industrial revolution – also known as Industry 4.0 – is transforming rapidly our societies: while it offers opportunities for start-up companies and small businesses to provide innovative products and services to the whole world, it is also a source of many concerns such as fear of robotisation and precarious forms of new employment. A seminar organised within the Knowledge Exchange Platform on June 28 gathered policymakers and experts from local, regional and European level in Brussels to discuss how to approach these social challenges and to make sure that everyone in Europe benefits from the ongoing transformation.
Markku Markkula, First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions, stressed that Europe needs to address the innovation divide across its regions: "New growth and jobs come from open innovation and value networks. Ecosystem thinking, partnerships between EU regions, benchlearning from each other and more synergies between different financial instruments are needed to reach the targets of Finland's presidency of the EU Council: make Europe the global leader in climate action and digital economy."
The CoR adopted in last week's plenary session an opinion on a place-based approach to EU industrial policy. Rapporteur Jeannette Baljeu (NL/Renew Europe), Commissioner in the Province of Zuid-Holland, said: “For Europe to remain competitive and make a successful transition to a zero-carbon and digital economy we need to strengthen regional and local ecosystems by cooperating in the whole value chain and connecting these ecosystems throughout all European regions. Cooperation of local and regional stakeholders is key in this. We can learn from each other and grow the European Industry in a sustainable way to a stronger, more innovative and competitive European Union."
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a key factor for the development of Industry 4.0. Jan Trei (EE/EPP), Mayor of Viimsi Rural Municipality and rapporteur for a recent CoR opinion on this topic, recalled that the development of AI requires investment in human resources, technology, research and education from different EU instruments, including Horizon Europe, Digital Europe and Erasmus. Adequate attention needs also to be paid to the ethical aspects and social impacts of AI.
During the seminar, following EU cities and regions presented their findings and best practises and exchanged views with experts from the European Commission:
- Hargita Country, Romania: As rapporteur for CoR's freshly adopted opinion on STE(A)M education, Csaba Borboly (RO/EPP) underlined that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills are the necessary precondition of Industry 4.0 jobs, especially in rural and less developed regions.
- Pays de la Loire, France: The Nantes-St-Nazaire metropolitan area is ranked as the most attractive in France with lowest level of unemployment in the country. It has identified six strategic sectors, among them ocean renewable energy which has created several thousand direct and indirect jobs in the area. CoR member Christophe Clergeau's (FR/PES) and his expert's presentation highlighted following success factors: "green, cross fertilisation, experimentation, collaboration, social responsibility".
- Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy: Regional councillor Franco Iacop (IT/PES) highlighted that his region was the only one in Italy to figure among strong innovators in European Commission's Regional Innovation Scoreboard 2019. The regional government has established an Industry Platform 4 FVG, a public and private partnership bringing together universities, research centres, start-up incubators, clusters, investors, local authorities and other regional players in the field of R&I with the common goal of growth and regional development.
- Scotland, UK: Councillor Tony Buchanan (UK/EA) from East Renfrewshire stressed the importance of ensuring the concept of 'fair work' in the context of technological change. Scotland's government has put in place a Fair Work Convention, which acts as an independent advisory body to Scottish Ministers. Empowering local communities, investing in skills training and extending high-speed broadband coverage to the whole country are other crucial factors to harness the benefits of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
The Knowledge Exchange Platform (KEP) is a concept jointly developed by the European Committee of the Regions and DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission. It is aimed at presenting new R&I solutions, innovative products and best practices in response to societal challenges facing the regions and cities of Europe. In 2019, the KEP will address the themes of Industry 4.0 and Social Innovation.