Opening Speech by Commissioner Elisa Ferreira at the iTechStyle Summit & ETP Annual Conference
“Check against delivery”
Dear President of CITEVE, Mr. António Amorim,
Dear Director General of CITEVE, Mr. António Braz Costa,
Dear President of Textile ETP, Mr. Michael Kamm,
Dear participants in the iTechStyle Summit 2023,
and the 17th Annual European Textile Conference and General Assembly of the European Textile Platform.
It is an honour to be here with you today, celebrating another gathering of the European textile community.
Looking at your programme, these are 3 intensive days, with plenty of interesting and timely debates, which I very much welcome.
We live through challenging times.
Russia‘s war against Ukraine accelerated geopolitical changes that had been slowly in motion for some time.
Digitalisation is deeply changing industry and society at large.
And climate change is an existential threat to the planet, one that we just cannot ignore.
While these transformations are unleashed by strong forces at global level, it does not mean that we are powerless, or static.
The opposite is true.
We need to shape these trends, minimising the risks and maximising the opportunities.
This is what the European Commission is doing.
In 2019, that is to say, before Covid and before the war, the European Commission adopted the European Green Deal, a plan to make Europe the first carbon neutral continent by 2050, the expectation being that this objective would help Europe‘s industry to reinvent itself and lead this change with technology and know-how.
The green and digital transitions are an opportunity to build better and differently, to bring in new technologies and products, and to be more competitive.
The pandemic that hit the world in 2020, if anything, made the need for a healthier planet and digital uptake more evident.
And Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine, over a year ago, accelerated the need for the energy transition.
The European Union reacted rapidly to these events.
We helped, through the pandemic with Cohesion Policy companies pay their employees, and to adapt their production during the pandemic, and promoted the joint procurement of vaccines and medical equipment, in spite of health not being a European but a national competence.
We have also, for the first time, complemented our traditional budget with loans from markets to support a fair recovery in our Member States. As the EU budget is very small, just 1%of the EU‘s GDP, the Commission prosed to raise loans in the markets to create an anti-cyclical support to the economy: the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF).
And after Russia‘s illegal invasion of Ukraine, and its use of energy as a weapon of war, our action permitted to avoid energy shortages and stabilise gas prices to pre-war levels.
More recently, and in the face of fierce international competition, we have put in motion an industrial plan for Europe, what we call a Green Deal Industrial Plan to help scaling up the European Union’s manufacturing capacity.This is also a change, as there was a time when people thought that Europe could discard industry.
Our aim is to increase industrial production and reduce dependencies in critical sectors, speeding up investment, and financing, for clean tech production in Europe. Europe cannot discard industry.
We are therefore acting at different levels: diversifying our energy imports, increasing the production of renewables, investing in decarbonisation, reducing our dependencies in strategic sectors, and supporting European powered industry to remain competitive in this international race.
As I have said, these are challenging times, but also times of opportunity.
And the textile sector is at the forefront of these changes and opportunities.
The textile sector plays an important role in the European manufacturing industry, employing 1.5 million people – which is more people than in some Member States – and producing a turnover of €162 billion.
The sector has undergone a radical change in the last decades to maintain, to regain, to refresh, its competitiveness, given the technological changes and globalisation, by moving persistently towards high value-added products.
European producers are now world leaders in technical textiles and non-woven, as well as in high-quality garments with high design content.
This has been an amazing story of transformation and leadership.
Consumers are now moving fast towards sustainability.Also the choices are changing.
The younger consumers, in particular, are very conscious of the environmental footprint of what they consume.
And they are passing those concerns, more and more, to the older generations.
Therefore, adaptations are necessary – they are urgent! – to reduce CO2 emissions, negative impacts on water and land use and to promote a circular economy.
This is why the European Commission adopted, just over a year ago, an EU strategy to help creating a greener, more competitive textiles sector.
Because the transformation is in motion, and we must drive it.
The alternative, to be driven by the ongoing changes, is not an option.
Our ‘2030 Vision for Textiles’ is that all textile products in the EU market must be durable, repairable and recyclable.
“Fast fashion is out of fashion”, as the slogan goes.
We should stop overproduction and overconsumption, discourage the destruction of unsold or returned textiles, and free textiles from hazardous substances.
It is quite an agenda which requires leadership by the industry and support by the authorities. I am well aware of the difficulties this entails.
Moreover, we need to bear in mind the global dimension: given that 80% of clothing products come from outside the EU, we must ensure that the European industry remains thriving and competitive.
Earlier in my professional life, in the 1980s, I lived first-hand the problems of a fast-declining textile region – the Vale do Ave (only a few kilometres from where we are now), the shock and the difficult, painful transition, because of an outdated production model and international competition by which low cost competitors were coming to the market.
I could witness the personal struggle of those who lost their jobs.
The environmental costs of neglect and inadequate regulation.
The distress that unmanaged transformation can bring to workers, companies and entrepreneurs.
At the time, I was leading a small team of officials and researchers tasked to propose a new development model for the region.
Many voices were suggesting to totally shift the economic specialisation, forget about textiles and move into new areas.
However, we believed that the top-level know-how, the expertise, and the tradition of the textile industry should not, and could not, be wasted. We cannot afford it.
The solution was rather to help the sector through the transition, facilitate its modernisation and create the framework conditions for it to adapt, change, innovate and look for new markets.
CITEVE, one of our co-hosts today, was a key part in the integrated development strategy to the Vale do Ave region that we proposed back then.
It was clear that the sector could not survive replicating old, non-competitive models and that a technology jump was needed.
The success of CITEVE is the success of the textile and clothing sector, helping companies with product design, development, prototyping, testing and R&D.
This gives me confidence that, this time, change will not hit the sector the same way.
We are more aware of what needs to be done, we have the experience of the previous transition, and we are working in a joined-up manner between the industry, national governments, and the European institutions.
The example of the European Technology Platform for the Future of Textiles and Clothing (Textile ETP), another of our co-hosts today, is encouraging and inspiring.
Your Platform is the embodiment of the change I have been referring to, seeking to link the knowledge, the scientific and technological capacities of universities and research institutions with companies and entrepreneurs, fostering innovation and cooperation, and championing efforts in explaining how this sector contributes to the economy and the society.
Textiles are in the fabrics of everyone’s daily lives. Textiles are the fabrics of everyone’s daily lives. Times like those we are going through are confusing and often scary.
But as a close observer of this sector for many years, I have no doubt to say that the drive for change is there.
The topics that have been announced for this conference are the right ones to be addressed: green and digital transition, high performing materials, smart local production, smart manufacturing.
These are the keys for a competitive textile and clothing sector in Europe.
A sector that contributes to the prosperity and sustainability of our economy, while continuing to provide jobs, through innovation and cooperation.
Looking into the future, 3 elements seem key.
This means new products, new production methods, new ways to reduce the sector’s ecological footprint and to find solutions beyond textiles traditional use in clothing or furniture.
Some of the most interesting developments have been outside these sectors: in medical and protective equipment, in buildings, in vehicles.
But also, in whole new materials in the more traditional clothing and furniture sectors.
Second, technological cooperation. The transformation I have referred to requires close cooperation between research institutions and companies, among companies, and across industries and across countries.
Third, value-chain optimisation. Past are the days when outsourcing to faraway places was a credible alternative to a European textile sector.
Thanks to your actions over the past 30-40 years, thanks to the transformation embraced by all agents in this sector, the wind is clearly behind re-shoring production and embracing smart production technologies.
And to do so in a sustainable way: from an environmental perspective, and from a business perspective.
You are not alone in this effort.
The European Commission will keep backing you in keeping as far as possible production factors stable and affordable, energy in particular.
The Commission has made available considerable financial support to modernisation and innovation, through the 2021-2027 Cohesion Policy‘s programmes, Horizon Europe and the Recovery and Resilience Facility.
We are also promoting the skills and competences needed, both for entrepreneurs and for workers.
Lastly, we, in the EU, are now more determined than ever in ensuring that social rights and environment protection are also respected by our trade partners.
I am sure that the debates you had yesterday, and will have today and tomorrow, will help to shape more precisely the future of the sector.
The history of the huge transformation in the last decades shows that it pays off to adapt, innovate, improve, adjust and lead the way.
You can count on the European Commission’s action and commitment to continue supporting you.