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Janne Känkänen: Sustainable growth − cornerstone of Europe’s future

EU2019FI 3.7.2019 10.08
Column

Finland’s Presidency aims to maintain a strong focus on sustainability. A sustainable and growing economy will form the foundations for a sustainable future, and for Europe. Economic growth is necessary if we are to continue to secure our wellbeing in the future. But growth must be ecologically and socially sustainable.

Changes taking place at a global scale present key challenges for Europe. Mitigating climate change calls for swift and ambitious actions around the world. In parallel with this, technology is advancing ever more rapidly, especially in the digital economy. Global competition from Asia and the United States is also intensifying.

Deriving prosperity and competitive advantage from the big challenges

It is essential that we not only focus on ambitious goals but also talk openly about the ways in which we can achieve sustainability. Practical solutions for transforming industrial processes in a climate-neutral direction, a more dynamic single market, improvements to data mobility and compatibility across the EU, and digital knowledge and skills will therefore be key to this process.

Sustainability will be furthered not only by emissions reductions but also by, for example, smart solutions, digital approaches and a strong focus on research and innovation. This will allow us to derive prosperity and competitive advantage from the big challenges, supporting the sustainable wellbeing of all European citizens.

Europe must lead the way in global competition

If we simply leave ourselves at the mercy of global competition without a shared view of how to succeed in this endeavour, we will fail to make progress on sustainability. Europe should take up the challenge and strive to lead rather than follow. Good examples can already be found.

For instance, the General Data Protection Regulation does not merely guarantee citizens the protection of their personal data. It can also create considerable opportunities for Europe’s businesses to take advantage of the enormous data reserves covering the EU-wide market. This is an opportunity to be at the forefront of the platform economy, especially in relation to European industry and the conditions for its success.

The accelerating pace of technological advances means that the EU must aim to be a global leader in the digital economy. Opportunities are presented by new technologies, such as those concerning artificial intelligence, connectivity and automation, provided that policy solutions allow not only research and innovation but also business activity to develop and scale up within Europe.

Growth-enhancing policy solutions awaited from EU

The EU must put together a sufficiently comprehensive policy package that will make efficient use of the resources of Europe and its citizens and businesses. A dynamic single market, modern industrial policy, the digital economy and the transition to a carbon-neutral economy are all necessary for responding to the global growth challenge.

A more competitive and socially inclusive EU is one of the priorities of Finland’s Presidency. Europe's ministers responsible for competitiveness are meeting this week in Helsinki to discuss sustainable growth for the future.

It is of vital importance that the discussion should continue and that we take this idea forward purposefully throughout the EU over the next five years. There is no time to waste. Climate change will not wait. Neither will technological advances, which are constantly taking huge leaps. Nor will the ever intensifying global competition.

Janne Känkänen, Director for EU and International Affairs at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment

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