New Article: Technological readiness in Europe EU policy perspectives on Industry 4.0

4 May 2020

By Mafini Dosso.

The new technological and innovative developments promised by the next industrial revolution come with their corollaries of optimistic and pessimistic scenarios for our societies. Today, public policy is still tackling digital transition issues; meanwhile, it is already acting on and anticipating the challenges and opportunities, and the risks and uncertainties, of the emerging Industry 4.0 (I4.0) paradigm. This chapter acknowledges these trends and provides an insider view on the background of the policy support given by the European Union (EU)2 to the transition towards the new industrial age.

While the third production revolution brought its waves of innovations through a wider penetration of information and communications technology (ICT) and automation, I4.0 is expected to extend, accelerate, connect and scale up these disruptions and transformations, and to trigger a wider integration across domains and discoveries. It will enable this through the multiplication of interactions across the physical, digital and biological spheres (Schwab, 2016)3 allowed by the convergence of new and emerging technologies and materials and the related technology- enhanced processes and systems, including 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT), big data and cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), advanced robotics, smart factories, precision farming and agriculture, fintech, neurotechnology, micro- engineering, predictive medicine, synthetic biology and predictive gene- based healthcare. The transformational and disruptive nature of the ongoing and upcoming technology- enabled or - pushed changes are already altering our learning, education, consumption, distribution, productive, financial, legal and governance systems (see e.g. Smit et al., 2016; Ulmann 2017; Craglia et al., 2018). They modify our established conceptions of privacy and ownership, work organisation, industries and competitive markets, and prompt the adoption of new business and governance models, as well as new collaborative and sharing practices.

From a policy perspective, these developments call for, amongst other things, adequate public anticipations and responses in terms of societal awareness raising and acceptance, learning and training, technology adoption and diffusion, support to production systems upgrading and value creation, data security, and standards and regulatory frameworks across various industries and socio- economic domains. While they also entail a variety of opportunities to rethink public policy and its (participatory) processes, the (un)expected and unprecedented transformations of I4.0 are indeed already requiring more agile and anticipatory governance. At the EU level, I4.0 can be considered as a central component of innovation, industry and digital policies, even if in practice the responsibilities are distributed across EU- level institutions and the Member States with their governments and administrative bodies, institutions and agencies.

Setting up the foundations of the Europe 2020 Strategy4 for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, the EU has designed dedicated flagship initiatives –
 ‘Innovation Union’, ‘An industrial policy for the globalisation era’ and ‘A digital agenda for Europe’ flagships (European Commission, 2010a) –  to strengthen the framework conditions and environment in the EU economy. Through these early broad and thematic policy initiatives, the Commission has put the development and adoption of emerging and digital technologies at the centre of its growth and modernisation agendas (European Commission, 2010b, 2010c, 2010d). Already, around a decade ago, the game- changing potential of key enabling technologies was underlined for the development of entirely new industries and as a response to societal challenges in areas relating, for instance, to energy, environment and resource scarcity (European Commission, 2009, 2010d). This study departs from these early initial policy steps and examines the main evolutions in the background and policy rationales for the support for the transition towards I.4.0 in Europe. The qualitative analysis mainly relies upon official European Commission communications5 and EU reports as well as thematic national and regional strategies. It brings together an updated and structured picture of some of the rationales and directions of I4.0- enabling policies in the EU.

The remainder of the chapter is organised as follows. Section 12.2 describes the EU policy background and underlines the main related rationales for the support for the transition towards I4.0. Section 12.3 presents and compares the recently formulated I4.0 policy strategies at the national levels. Then selected regional strategies are discussed, focusing on the policy objectives and formulation as underlined in their innovation strategies for smart specialisation.