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Industrie 4.0 can only succeed with and within Europe. After a bumpy start, the EU's digital policies have got a lot underway and the member states are now working closely together.

By Kai Peters

The EU recognized the importance of digital technologies early. In particular Neelie Kroes, EU Commissioner for Digital Agenda from 2010 to 2014, made digitalization a priority of European politics. Her work laid the foundation for the digital single market in which the European legislation regulates important issues such as data protection and network safety.

Industrie 4.0 needs European rules

Despite Industrie 4.0 first being perceived as a national strategy, it quickly became apparent that the rules and the framework had to be set in Europe. However, the Commission and European Parliament initially struggled to recognize the digital transformation of the real industries and its physical goods and processes. The EU had previously rather concentrated on defending the rights of digital consumers and on taking the fight to internet and telecom giants. Which legal conditions should apply to the connected and autonomous systems, how important are machine and production data for companies, or how digital platforms develop in the B2B sector - all these questions were new ground for European politics, which either viewed them from a purely digital perspective, or not at all.

Industrie 4.0 successfully exported

In the meantime, this has changed: Firstly, the concept of Industrie 4.0 turned into a huge success beyond the borders of Germany: Against the backdrop of the economic crisis at that time, the originally German concept of a new, digitalized industry awoke great interest in Brussels and other EU member states. Secondly, Günther Oettinger, EU Commissioner for Digital Agenda, who recognized the importance of the digital transformation of industry, took the reins and addressed the shortcomings of the digital single market with the "Digitalization of the Industry" initiative.

Since then, important European debates on topics such as data access, cybersecurity or liability have been conducted with an increased focus on industrial aspects. The first impressions indicate that the industrial perspective will be more taken into account when drafting European regulation. And Industry 4.0 left its footprint on the European Research programmes, too; approximately 500 million euros are supposedly reserved for digital production and digital industry platforms.

Learning from each other

This development goes beyond legislation. Representatives of the national digital initiatives - alongside the Industrie 4.0 platform, "L'industrie du Future" in France or "Industria Conectada 4.0" in Spain, for example - regularly meet under the auspices of the EU Commission and attempt to coordinate their activities, learn from each other and start joint initiatives. This means that Europe has not only become the playing field for Industrie 4.0, but digitalization has created an opportunity for increased collaboration in Europe.

Further Information

VDMA European Office  |   VDMAimpulse 03-2016: "Moments of truth for Oettinger's plan"

Kai Peters, VDMA European Office.