“Renewing Economic Integration in the EU Single Market” - Opening Remarks

Ladies and gentlemen,


Let me start by thanking the European Movement International and the European Round Table for Industry.


Not only for the chance to address you with a few welcoming remarks, but also for the pivotal role you play in shaping our European economy.


Few topics are as vital to Europe’s future as the future of our industry. Europe has always been a leader in grand industrial projects. Our innovations have been driving every industrial revolution, from mechanized manufacturing in the 19th century to the development of sustainable and smart technologies today.


Long before Brussels became synonymous with the European Union, it played a crucial role in shaping our industrial future. It was here, in Brussels, at the dawn of the twentieth century, that Ernest Solvay convened the brilliant minds of his time, among them Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Niels Bohr. The Solvay Conferences pushed the boundaries of science and laid the groundwork for decades of industrial innovations.


Future generations have built upon this, transforming Europe into an economic and industrial powerhouse.


But it was the launch of the Single Market, in 1993, that really accelerated our economic cooperation.


Breaking trade barriers.

Harmonizing standards and regulations,

The free movement of goods, services, capital and labor.

They all made it easier to trade and to invest, enhancing our competitivity and fostering our innovation capacity.


Many of you, and the companies and organizations you represent, played a significant role in this journey, but one man stood out: Jacques Delors.


His vision for the Single Market has fundamentally shaped our continent. It drove business growth, job creation, and unlocked countless opportunities.


But it meant much more.


It also brought stability and peace.


Our deep economic ties did not only bolster our economies, but they also reinforced bounds between European countries, fostering a deeper understanding and cooperation.


Progress we take too easily for granted and that we would never have achieved without Delors’ vision.


Yet, our journey has been anything but linear.


In recent years, we have navigated through the rough waters of a pandemic that triggered an economic shockwave and exposed the vulnerabilities in our supply chains.


At the same time, we are in a twin transition that is reshaping the very fabric of our economy and that demands our companies to innovate and to adapt at an unprecedented pace.


And all this is happening, while the global economic landscape is shifting. With massive subsidy programs, and state financing that is affecting the level playing field for our European companies.


Developments that should challenge us to rethink our strategies and policies. Because Europe must remain a competitive and innovative force on the global stage.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Our European economy stands indeed at a turning point.


In a world that is rapidly evolving, so too must the Single Market.


If we aspire for the European Union to remain a global hub of innovation. If we wish to ensure ‘made and manufactured’ for future generations, then we must, with urgency and determination, follow in the footsteps of visionaries like Delors.


That is why the future of our European industry, and the strengthening of the Single Market are a central priority for the Belgian Presidency.


We will pay particular attention to Enrico Letta’s report on the future of the Single Market and the Draghi report on competitiveness.


But we also welcome all contributions from the industry side.


Just two days ago, the Antwerp Declaration for a European Industrial Deal called for a future with lower energy costs, competitive tax levels, fewer burdens, and less complexity.


And last week, there was the Joint Statement of business organizations calling for another “Delors moment” and asking to remove the many Single Market barriers that still exist.


All these initiatives are invaluable contributions, and I’m sure that today’s event will be so as well.


I don’t need to tell anyone in this room that a car can only move forward when all components are in the right place and aligned. The same goes for the Single Market.


So, as we look forward, let me share five perspectives that I personally believe deserve attention when reflecting on aligning and accelerating our economic integration.


First perspective: how to create a more resilient Single Market?


Recent global shocks have shown the importance of complementing the efficiency of the Single Market with resiliency.


But making our Single Market more resilient is not a matter of protectionism.  We must find the right balance between openness on the one hand, and the protection and promotion of our industrial base on the other hand.


The stronger our economic base, the stronger we are on the global scene. That is also what open strategic autonomy is about.


The second perspective is about the central role of industry in achieving net-zero.


Some believe that we will reach climate neutrality by neutralizing our economic base. They are wrong.


The only way to create a more sustainable Europe is to embrace the innovation power of our companies and to guarantee that everyone – every sector, every company, no matter its size – is on board.


Achieving net-zero emissions and supporting our industries are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they are complementary, and the Single Market must facilitate this.


Thirdly, we must consider the impact of changing demographics.


If want the Single Market to function at its best, our approach needs to go beyond urban centers and include all of Europe.


It’s crucial to prevent rural areas from feeling excluded or suffering from brain drain, lack of investment, and workforce scarcity.


Our aim should be to strengthen cross-border exchanges, prioritizing these regions. The Single Market must promote an inclusive future, where no one is left behind.


Fourth, the role of the Single Market for our European security and  defence.


The two-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine, reminds us of the importance of securing Europe.


European defence will be high on the list of priorities of the next European Commission. And here too, our industry needs to be on board.


We need to guarantee that the Single Market can play its role in guaranteeing that our industrial base delivers, also in defence.


And the fifth perspective I wanted to share is that of enlargement.


Recently, several countries received an EU perspective, including Ukraine and Moldova, and countries in the Western Balkans.


A potential enlargement will create a bigger Single Market and all the opportunities that come with it. But it requires careful preparation and adaptation.


We must learn the lessons of the previous enlargements.


We have to guarantee the integrity of the Single Market while safeguarding existing social and economic EU policies.


A potential enlargement must create winners, not losers.



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These five perspectives are not just possible policy directions; they are above all a call to action. To reform, to deepen and to accelerate our economic integration.  


Ladies and Gentlemen,


There is much work to be done. But Belgium, both as one of the founding members of the Single Market and as the current President, is determined to gather the building blocks that must be the basis of the industrial and economic program of the next European Commission.


The journey ahead is both exciting and daunting.


The decisions we will take in the next months and years, the policies we implement, and the partnerships we forge will determine the economic future of our continent.


But I am convinced that if we move forward with the same spirit of innovation, cooperation and collective resolve that has always defined Europe, we will build a Single Market that sets the stage for a prosperous, inclusive, and sustainable future for all Europeans.


I thank you and wish you a fantastic day!