ETUC statement ahead of Commission proposal for an EU Industrial Strategy


The European Trade Union Movement will welcome the forthcoming EU industrial strategy if the proposals are fair for workers, supportive of the most vulnerable regions and sectors and with sufficient funding to be implemented properly. Workers and trade unions are part of the solution and expect an inclusive governance process to shape and implement the strategy.   

The European Union is currently facing a double challenge : on the one side, science makes it clear that, to avoid irreversible and disastrous consequences for our societies, it is urgent to take measures against climate change and to accelerate the just transition to a carbon neutral economy. On the other side, digitalisation, automation and the rise of artificial intelligence are bringing significant changes that our economies need to anticipate and manage.

If properly managed in a fair and inclusive way, these two transitions could lead to many opportunities for the EU. However, if not anticipated, these changes could deepen existing inequalities between regions, sectors and people and result in the loss of many European jobs.

The ETUC strongly believes that these major transitions are the two faces of the same coin and should be addressed jointly and coherently. It is important that climate policies reinforce digital policies and vice-versa. In both dimensions, the concept of just transition must be central.

On 11 March, the European Commission will publish its EU industrial strategy proposal. This initiative will be instrumental in achieving the transition to a climate neutral and digital economy.

Ahead of these publications, the European Trade Union Confederation calls on the Commission to include the following key demands in its proposal:

Transversal messages

  • The European Industrial Strategy should have a strong social dimension. The main objective of the strategy should be to create and maintain employment in the EU while reducing GHG emissions and accompanying workers, public sector and companies into a digital world.  EU industrial strategy should provide sustainable opportunities and perspectives to those regions, sectors and workers most affected by the transitions and should guarantee that no one is left behind.
  • This social dimension should be reflected by a strong emphasis on employment policies, social protection and the role of public services. To allow workers to adapt to the tasks and jobs of the future, the EU industrial policy should foresee detailed mapping of skills on employment needs, adapted education and training programmes as well as re-skilling and up-skilling projects. It should make sure that all workers can benefit from these programmes and that they do not deepen existing inequalities such as gender, socio-economic, cultural or geographic. A reinforcement of social protection mechanisms and labour rights should also be envisaged to support workers in their transition. It should also be clear that industry relies heavily on the availability of good public administrations, solid legal systems, quality public infrastructures, public education, training and research, as well as other public services (such as elderly care, hospitals, etc.). Investments in the public sector should therefore be an integral part of the EU industrial strategy.
  •  EU industrial strategy should be based on an inclusive governance process where social dialogue and trade unions have a key role. Workers are part of the solution, not of the problem. Trade unions are structured, have on the ground perspective and democratically represent the people most affected. They are key in shaping the different measures to accommodate the needs of the workers and in identifying the key challenges to address. Social dialogue is crucial to redistribute the gains and costs of the transitions, making sure that workers and most vulnerable parts of the society do not bear the burden of financing the transition alone. For social dialogue to work effectively, it will be needed to strengthen workers participation and empower trade unions to ensure their effective involvement.
  • The EU industrial strategy should be accompanied by adequate financial means to be implemented. Funding will be crucial to convert the future industrial strategy into concrete action. In that regards, the ETUC recommends using all possibilities offered by the European Investment Bank and the European Central Bank to achieve the right level of investments needed. In parallel to that, the ETUC also supports an increase of the overall EU MFF budget to 1.3% of the EU Gross National Income and to develop a fair taxation system (e.g. by adopting a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base, a Financial Transactions Tax, a digital tax or a tax on highest revenues and excessive wealth). The use of ETS revenues, of a carbon tax as well as a tax on non-recycled plastic packaging waste could also help securing these funds[1]. Having these solidarity mechanisms should help financing the different measures while fairly redistributing the gains and costs of the transition.

Climate dimension

  • EU industrial strategy should create supply and demand markets for carbon neutral solutions while protecting EU industry from carbon and investment leakages. The ETUC strongly believes that state aids and public procurement have a strong role to play to steer the market along with pull and push measures. Such public funding should be subject to strong social and environmental criteria. In the private sector, EU industrial strategy should promote Responsible Social Business and due diligence to encourage the uptake of sustainable products. Putting in place a carbon border adjustment mechanism for the most carbon intensive products would allow to drive the demand for such carbon neutral solutions inside the EU while protecting European jobs and industry from unfair competition or carbon leakage[2]. Any regressive distributional effects from such a measure should be compensated. 
  • EU industrial strategy should also boost the development of climate neutral technologies and boost investments in infrastructures needed to deploy these technologies.  To avoid deepening existing inequalities, the ETUC recommends that these investments are prioritised for those regions and sectors that are the most vulnerable and most affected by decarbonisation. Investments to guarantee efficient and reliable public services will also be crucial for the development of those regions.
  • EU Industrial Strategy should be strongly linked to an ambitious Circular Economy Action Plan. A strategy to deploy an industrial-scale circular economy is indeed needed to overcome critical raw material scarcity, to promote resource efficiency and to reduce waste production. This will require a deep transformation of EU industry, mobilising a broad range of policies and heavy investment in the areas of standardisation, regulation, taxation, skills and innovation. Specific attention should be given to ensure an appropriate training of workers and to eradicate any negative impacts that such changes could have in terms of health and safety, work organization and working conditions. Workers representatives and trade unions should participate to the shaping of the circular economy.

Digital dimension

  • Investments in technologies and infrastructure will also be crucial to manage the digital transition. To ensure convergence and to avoid a two speed Europe, we recommend that priority is given to investments in regions and workers that need them most.
  • EU industrial strategy should prevent monopolies of big data companies. When it comes to digitalisation and the use of data, it is important that the future industrial strategy includes regulations to avoid a few market players detaining most of the industrial data. The ETUC recommends putting in place a licensing regime for non-exclusive rights to access and to process raw industrial data. New regulations should also be adopted to secure the right to privacy at work and to guarantee the privacy and security of users’ personal data[3].
  • The Commission’s proposal should also make sure that workers are protected from the potential risks brought by artificial intelligence and automation processes. Ensuring the effective consultation of workers and guaranteeing the ‘human in command principle’ will be necessary to prevent the rise of health and safety risks, alienating tasks and abuses in management and HR processes. The use of AI applications in relation to employment issues and impacting workers lives should be regulated by law to guarantee the protection of fundamental rights such as equality, non-discrimination, privacy and protection against intrusive surveillance technologies.

To tackle both climate and digital challenges ahead, the concept of just transition should be central in the future industrial strategy. By just transition, we mean (1) the presence of solidarity mechanisms and strong public services to support most vulnerable and affected sectors and regions, (2) the presence of adequate social protection and training programmes to accompany workers in their transition, (3) the development of local economies and diversification of activities, (4) rigorous impact assessment plans and detailed strategies to anticipate the changes and (5) an effective social dialogue at all stages of the process.