Currently, the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee of the European Parliament is working on its own initiative report on re-industrialising Europe to promote competitiveness and sustainability. The Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee prepared an opinion drafted by Tadausz Cymanski MEP (EPP, Poland) and amendments to this draft opinion were tabled and will be voted on on 19 June. The question is now whether the ENVI Committee has taken the right stance to protect public health, promote good health outcomes and reduce health inequalities
Whilst recognising the contribution that sustainable industries could have towards restoring economic growth in Europe, we would like to highlight the significant oversight in judging such growth soley by crude GDP terms, rather than through a more appropriate post-GDP mode of measuring progress in our societies. To this end, we urge the Commission and the ITRE report’s to promote re-industrialisation and competitiveness taking into account people’s health and societal well-being.
We consider the debate on economic growth crucial and in particular its inclusiveness aspect, as it is one of the main goals of the Europe2020 Strategy. Therefore, we would suggest the text makes reference to the Council of the European Union’s conclusions ’Rio+20: Pathways to a sustainable future’ (March 2012), where the EU Environment Ministers explore alternative growth models and note that greening the economy is essential to promoting "sustainable consumption and production, human health and well-being and hence eradicate poverty, providing benefits for all citizens".
All-in-all, we are disappointed to have seen little if any reference to wider public health objectives of stronger and sustainable European industry policies; policies coherent with Europe’s actions on environment (water and air quality, soil, biodiversity (see proposal for the 7th European Action Programme)), healthy and sustainable lifestyles, transport and mobility (public and active transport, environment-friendly), agriculture and food production, inter alia.
1. "The goal of providing strong support to industry" under the ongoing economic crisis is important. However, this should not be pursued on account of inclusive growth and economic drivers put before investment in people and communities. This should give a strong impetus towards re-inventing the way economic growth is approached - from purely pro-growth towards pro-inclusive growth.
2. "A number of European laws on energy and climate change" have been put in place to protect the health of European citizens, and this should be the EU’s priority towards its citizens. Should the impact of these on the competitiveness of European industry reduce "Europe’s ability to attract investment", this should not be pursued in terms of weakened EU’s actions on reduction of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, as well as poor reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and its ’greening’ component.
Conversely, some commentators have argued that environmental regulation spurs innovation in a number of ways and that there are “win-win” opportunities available through environmental regulation, where simultaneously pollution is reduced and productivity increased (“Porter hypothesis” or revisionist view, Porter and van der Linde 1995). The high level group on administrative burden (the Stoiber Group) found that for environmental legislation, administrative burdens were considerably lower than perceived by the general public. Even the Commission, two years ago expected the environmental share of the EU administrative burden to be between 4 and 5%. The high level group recognises that this perception, also within business, is partly due to the confusion with compliance costs in the public debate.
3. Throughout Europe, energy costs both for industry and consumers are placed high on their agendas. In order to make energy more accessible and affordable, however, more attention should be directed towards sustainable long-term renewable sources, and not - as the draft opinion would suggest - to "emphasise access to cheap sources of energy through diversification and the use of non-conventional sources", which we are afraid might be interpreted as shale gas and biofuels. Whilst considered a cheap and quick solution to Europe’s energy problems, profound negative public health consequences should prove a sufficient incentive NOT to follow this direction - as presented in this joint position paper by major EU environmental groups. In addition, biofuels have been found to threaten the EU and global food security, as outlined in the UN FAO’s The State of Food and Agriculture 2013 report.
5. "Competitiveness should be fostered in all sectors of industry", however, due attention should be given to the fact that different industries have different impacts on individuals in European societies. Re-industrialisation and/or promotion of industry in such areas like pharmaceuticals, agriculture and food production, fossil-fuel energy, private transport modes or other sectors that drive unsustainable consumption should be discouraged by a mix of comprehensive sets of EU and national policies. In addition, industrialisation should not equal privatisation.
6. Both "private and public funds for research and development" hold a tremendous potential "to promote Europe as an innovation leader". As stated above (point 5), industrialisation should not lead to privatisation, in particular in areas of general interest services, such as healthcare, food, water and sanitation. Public funds (including EU funds) should support production of public goods, and European research and innovation priorities should more reflect current urgent societal needs, such as reducing inequalities, poverty, greater inclusive growth and solidarity - values enshrined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
For R&D in the Pharmaceutical sector, all EU institutions and member states should explore the “de-linkage” of R&D costs from the final costs of medicines in any future initiatives in innovation. This would improve needs-driven innovation and affordable medical products. The EU Council expressed their political commitment to this in the Council conclusions of 10 May 2010 on the EU role in Global Health.
7. In addition to the proposed "systematic impact assessments and competitiveness tests at the planning stage of EU environmental legislation", similar Health Impact Assessments and Sustainability Impact Assessments of EU industry and energy policies should be encouraged in order to find better suited, balanced solutions to difficult policy areas. The comment on the administrative burden of the EU environmental legislations presented in point 2. also applies here.