Tomorrow’s Europe - A business perspective

Former Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou, believes the European Union is still a work in progress, saying: “We have to become more of a United States of Europe”. What should a more competitive Europe look like? We asked five industry leaders for their five-point plan.

By Adam Burns, editor, MeetTheBoss TV

Eleven countries have joined the European Union in the last decade and in many, many ways it is an undoubted success. According to a recent report from the Economics Department of ING, the unification of East and West has boosted economic opportunities and growth in Europe significantly.

So it is becoming bigger, but how do we make it better? We know what politicians think, but what of business, the engine that employs 65% of all people aged 16-64 across the EU?

We asked five business leaders from a diverse range of sectors: a European farming cooperative, automotive, manufacturing, financial services, and logistics. This is their five-point plan for a more competitive European tomorrow:

1. Get the right mindset

“I think I'd like every European citizen to walk around and say: Listen, yes, we’re in a crisis right now, but it’s going to get better,” says Tim Becker, director of Global Innovation at Arla Foods. “It’s going to improve. We are going to keep doing the things that we were doing before, and the pie is going to grow for everybody, and we don’t have to circle our part of the pie so strongly as we’re doing right now.”

2. Play to soft strengths

“One of the things that I feel most proud of is Europe’s reputation as the world representative of soft power,” says Carlos Lahoz, director of Sales, Planning and Supply Chain Management for KIA Motors Europe. “Our tolerance levels, the protection of minorities, the full integration of women in the society or in the workplace, the constitutional protection that we all have, human rights, universal access to health and social security, mobility or fair access to education. There is no other area in the world that could meet the European Union in those soft values… But I think we need to be more convincing.”

3. Celebrate diversity

Folkert Bouwe Bölger is vice president for Danish audio and video wizards Bang & Olufsen, which opened a factory in the Czech Republic in 2004. He believes Europe must play to its strengths. “We have very diverse cultures in Europe. It is also a very interesting region to live and to work in, if you compare it with some of the other regions. Most of the happiest countries in the world are in Europe, although we might not sometimes think of that.”

4. Forget straight bananas (because what’s good really works)

“This European project is still in its infancy in some ways,” says Robert O’Donoghue, global head of Working Capital Solutions with ING. “People will point to the curvature of bananas and packaging and some of the things that are, let’s put them on the foolish end of the scale in terms of legislation. A great piece of legislation to my mind that has come through recently is the European directive on late payment, which is designed to try to get money to smaller companies more quickly. It’s designed to help them to finance themselves and stay more sustainable. And social responsibility, I think, is something that is to the forefront of European thinking.”

5. Get the right economic model

DHL is a division of Deutsche Post, the world’s largest logistics company. Fittingly, vice president of Sales for DHL Express UK, Neil Kushel, looks at the bigger picture: “We have, within Europe, the ability to really be at the forefront of manufacturing and innovation, and research and development, for a long time. There is a hugely growing middle class around the world, in Brazil, in Russia, in China, in India, and huge demand for high-quality European goods and services."he opportunities are fantastic for the companies that have the entrepreneurial spirit to think about exporting.”

Would you like to know more?

The View is the online magazine of ING Wholesale Banking