European industry calls for more flexibility and support

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Labour inflexibility in Europe is deterring companies from exploiting European science, forcing them to set up shop elsewhere in the world, industry leaders warned in Brussels today, at the annual meeting of Photonics21.

The meeting, which was organised by the European Photonics Institute, also heard criticisms that there was too much emphasis, by both national governments and the European Commission, on basic science and not enough on developing the fruits of science through to a level at which commercial products were possible. A general lack of understanding of how societies generate wealth was also raised as an issue. 

Speaking at the panel discussion, Made by light: fostering economic growth in Europe, Giorgio Anania, co-founder and CEO of LED technology company Aledia, said: ‘European governments insist on labour inflexibility. It’s easier to get staff to move from Malaysia to France than Germany to France.’ Anania also criticised governments for ‘putting its money into the past’, a reference to subsidised industries such as farming. 

Also on the panel were Anne Glover, chief scientific adviser to the European Commission president José Manuel Barroso; Khalil Rouhana, director of the EC’s Connect directorate; and Jenoptik CEO and new Photonics21 president, Michael Mertin.

Mertin agreed with Anania. He said: ‘You have all this bashing of management in Europe. Inflexibility of labour in Europe is one of the biggest issues. De-regulation is needed, not only at the European level but the national level too; most labour laws are at the national level. If not, the money will be invested somewhere else.’

Asked about what the European Commission can do, Glover said that the approach was generally one rule in and one rule out, but she thought it would be more ambitious if it was two or three rules out for every new rule.

Mertin spoke positively about what the planned public-private partnership between the European Union and industry could achieve, adding: ‘We have this "valley of death" in the middle. Most research programmes have focused on basic research or on direct production-orientated subsidies. What we must do now is spend the money in that middle [area].  It is absolutely necessary. Innovation is about taking the knowledge to make money.’

Anania also praised the EC for the move to an R&D focus on key enabling technologies. Europe was now trying to bridge that "valley of death" and, he said: 'We have to make decisions and make market-related decisions. For me that’s huge.’