Addressing the conference, Gary McGann — chief executive of paper and packaging giant Smurfit Kappa Group — said the EU needs to “revisit the drivers of European competitiveness”, adding that a more “pro-business climate” is needed and that leaders must “create wealth first then distribute it, not the other way around”.
In a not overly optimistic 20-minute address about Europe’s fitness for purpose, Mr McGann sounded a harsh warning: “Some people think we have a problem in Europe. I think it’s worse than that. There is a silent crisis creeping up on us, unless we act decisively now. If we don’t, then Europe is another Japan waiting to happen, with decades of no GDP, jobs, competitiveness, or population growth. We’re not doing enough, but if we act now we can resolve our problems.”
He highlighted a general lack of competitiveness and too much regulation as being the two main threats to progress in Europe — with more entrepreneurship needed over more regulation and greater focus on lowering costs and increasing R&D; as well as increased vigilance over the strength of the euro.
Mr McGann also warned of the dangers of Europe potentially losing a whole generation to unemployment and pointed to demographic patterns as being a major future concern — noting that by 2050 the average age in Europe will have gone from 38 to 52, while that in the US it will only be 35.
Earlier in the day, delegates heard from Leif Johansson — chairman of Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson — who said that he is more optimistic about the European business environment now than at any time over the past 30 years. However, Mr Johansson said that burdensome regulation is a major concern for the EU and that by 2025, there could be a lack of 500,000 science-based graduates if action isn’t taken to tackle the skills shortage.