Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFE) - BusinessEurope declaration
Our 10 key messages
- BusinessEurope, its member federations and the overwhelming majority of European companies are strong supporters of the European Union. This has been the case in 1958, when we were founded, and remains the case today! We are proud to be Europeans.
- We were at the forefront in supporting all the steps to advance the EU, especially the establishment of the Single Market, the 4 freedoms, trade policy, the euro, early efforts towards decarbonisation, youth exchange projects, social dialogue, cooperation on R&D and many more. The involvement of the business community in the European project is reflected in our participation in dozens of working groups and committees of the EU institutions. At the same time, citizens benefit from the internal market, with companies creating employment and providing quality jobs.
- Recent studies and surveys have shown that for citizens, their own companies are the most trusted source of information. This also shows that companies take a serious approach, including regarding their own responsibility, when it comes to the EU and politics generally.
- While we support this Conference and its aim of listening to European citizens, we are still unclear about the exact process leading to the adoption of recommendations, and the political purpose of the recommendations. We warn against them becoming a sort of new Commission Work Programme. The von der Leyen Commission has established a work programme which has been democratically adopted by EU leaders and the EP. At the same time, it is important that recommendations resulting from the conference take account of political, economic, and legal feasibility, to avoid creating unrealistic and, ultimately, unmet expectations for our citizens. We could however imagine that important proposals - e.g., on how to improve our European Union - could serve as a basis for the campaigns in the European elections 2024. We stand ready to contribute to this objective.
- We welcome the special role granted to Social Partners within the Conference. As acknowledged in the European Treaties, Social Partners play an important role in the EU integration process. The same respect has to be paid towards the enshrined division of competences between the Union and national level in the field of social policy. This also goes for the precious autonomy of Social Partners. We therefore insist to all actors, that strong representativeness of organisations, as a key factor for legitimacy, needs to be taken into account.
- But most importantly: the basis for all our political and societal projects, whether environmental, social, human rights etc, is a vibrant and healthy economy. Without our companies creating wealth and jobs, nothing can be achieved. This is the foundation for the European Model being attractive internationally and the prerequisite for our cherished European Way of Life. If we don’t achieve this, other players will dominate the global economy of the 21st century. And some of these players stand for pretty much the opposite of our European Social Model and Way of Life.
For our businesses, international competitiveness, the Internal Market, and trade are key focus points of the EU. At the same time, we recognise that the EU is about much more than the economy: the EU is also the guardian of a common body of values enshrined in the Treaties, and a guarantor of an open society model in which freedom, creativity and entrepreneurship can thrive.
- Whereas in the past decades the main concern was to create a politically and economically united Europe, it will be more important in the future to make the EU capable of acting in the global context. Business wants a confident and outward looking EU, as was recently described by President von der Leyen in her State of the Union speech. This requires more efficient decision-making and a unified stance on foreign policy issues, as well as a smart, liberal trade policy that also uses Europe’s influence to defend its values and interests.
In addition, Europe must become more aware of the political, economic, and indeed military power of its nation states and move from its role of “global payer” to “global player”. Important projects such as the Permanent Structured Cooperation, the European Defence Fund and the Space Strategy must be made fully functional. We want to give EU foreign and security policy a boost, so it can meet its objectives : more autonomy, resistance to external pressure, a modern multilateral trading system, preserving peace, strengthening international security, promoting international cooperation, to develop and consolidate democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights & fundamental freedoms.
- At the same time, the EU’s internal strength remains the vital prerequisite to be able to play any role at all on the world stage. Strengthening the European Union internally and increasing international competition both require a deepening of the Single Market in all areas, a smart EU industrial policy and a forward-looking climate policy. They also require a deep common understanding on the code of common values that underpins the EU; without it, real unity will be elusive.
Health policy also plays a central role in the European Union’s ability to act, in order to be better prepared for future pandemics. For resilience in future financial crises, progress in economic and monetary union and in integration in the single financial market is urgently needed. In these areas, the Conference on the Future of Europe should provide impetus to move the European Union forward.
- Research and innovation are key drivers for accelerating the green and digital transition, ensuring a fair, sustainable, and competitive economy, and strengthening Europe’s technological autonomy. There is no doubt that the future of Europe and of its citizens will be largely shaped by how it performs in science and technology. Research and innovation were surprisingly not identified as priority topics for the Conference, whereas it appears essential to seize this opportunity to reflect on the vital role that R&I plays for Europe’s future prosperity and well-being, and as part of the debate on EU future challenges and priorities.
- The results of the Conference have to be realistic and manageable and avoid putting additional burdens on companies. The pandemic has left huge scars on the economic landscape, and it will take a long time for many companies to recover. The cost of doing business in Europe remains too high. This is an investment disincentive.
According to the European Commission’s trade review, already in 2024, 85% of the world’s GDP growth is expected to come from outside the EU. In this context, Europe’s continued socio-economic prosperity depends on its ability to tap into this global growth. This implies an international rulesbased trading system which provides market opportunities for European companies and ensuring that the EU remains an open and attractive place to invest.
European companies do not reject regulation per se. In fact, in many cases, they prefer EU legislation to a patchwork of 27 sets of national rules, but all EU legislation should undergo a thorough impact assessment. We therefore call on decision-makers to help companies do what they do best: create wealth and jobs. Because every euro spent needs to be earned first!