Jozef Síkela, Minister of Industry and Trade
Can you briefly introduce us the Ministry of Industry and Trade?
The Ministry of Industry and Trade (MIT) is the central state administration body for industrial, energy and raw materials policies, trade policy in the context of the EU Internal Market, pro-export policy, consumer rights protection, support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), postal services, electronic communication and digitization policy and technical harmonization/standardization.
What are your priorities for the Presidency?
Priorities of my Ministry for the Czech Presidency are clear – first, we need to ensure greater energy security. Our long-term dependence on the import of Russian oil and gas is no longer sustainable. Improving the energy security of the EU became even more relevant after the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its repeated attempts to use its energy supplies as a weapon against the EU. We are doing the best we can to diversify EU energy sources and improving energy savings in order to enhance the energy autonomy of the EU. For that reason, on 26 July, the Czech Presidency called for an extraordinary Energy Council in Brussels where the EU Member States agreed on a 15 % energy savings target and a creation of a winter alert system enabling mandatory cuts in the natural gas consumption.
Furthermore, we recognize the importance of the REPowerEU Plan and the future implementation of the Fit for 55 package. It is very important to us to put emphasis on promoting the energy efficiency and energy savings, and supporting the deployment of renewable technologies. We also need to focus on the development of low-emission energy infrastructure, including the nuclear and hydrogen energy, and on energy diplomacy and cooperation with reliable partners.
Moreover, the Czech Presidency will focus on building up the EU economy’s strategic resilience. Over the years, the EU has developed an unsustainable dependency on third countries in key products, such as pharmaceuticals, chips, cloud and raw materials. To remedy this, we need first to analyze our dependencies carefully and then enhance the local production, strengthen our circular economy and diversify our trade partners, especially from among the democratic and reliable ones.
Last but not least, it is a priority for the Czech Presidency to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian invader, in its gradual integration into the EU and in rebuilding its industry
Could you present the Industry and Trade economic area and the perspectives of development? The role of environment and digitalization?
The Czech Presidency believes that digitization is a crucial aspect in achieving competitiveness of the EU. In our understanding, a fundamental prerequisite for a successful digital transformation is the promotion of a favourable environment for innovations, investment in disruptive technologies, the development of technological capabilities and skills and facilitating the development of a dynamic data economy. We consider SMEs as the main drivers of innovation and we are striving to increase their competences and development in the digital field.
From the perspective of funding, the Czech Republic fully supports development of the digital innovation hubs (so called EDIHs), which should be operational by the end of 2022. These facilities aim to provide the best support through the exchange of expertise, experience and know-how. In addition, they will serve as enablers of digital transformation (in a field of artificial intelligence, high performance computing or cyber security), enabling SMEs to test and use digital technologies.
During our Presidency, we are also closely following the negotiations of several important digital files, which will help with the digital and environmental transformation. For example, the Data Act will facilitate the establishment of a data-sharing ecosystem and also help with the creation of green deal data space.
When it comes to the sphere of digital trade, the Czech Presidency seeks to promote open strategic autonomy and cooperation with countries such as the USA, Israel, Switzerland, Japan and the UK to maintain fair competition, resilience and innovation in the European economy. We are convinced that the importance of digital trade will only increase. At the same time, we see that open digital trade and ensuring data security are not in contradiction. Nevertheless, we are worried about the growing tendencies towards digital protectionism in the world and believe the EU should lead by example in fighting those tendencies.
Could you give us an idea about the important sector, the international collaboration and the most important Czech companies who play a strategic role?
The Czech Republic is one of the most industrialised countries in Europe. As a country with a high dependence on manufacturing industry, digitization and the development of modern technologies is naturally a must. This will give us a comparative advantage in important sectors that are dynamically changing the environment of our industry, energy sector, trade and logistics.
The most important sectors include the engineering, automotive, chemical, steel, electrotechnical or defence industries. Since the individual sectors of the manufacturing industry are complementary and have the potential to create a synergistic effect with other ones and thus higher added value in the entire group, it is necessary to support them all. Together with digital technologies, data processing and specialised R&D in the field of digitization, they provide the Czech Republic with significant potential for export and international cooperation.
The Czech Republic actively partakes in a number of important projects dealing with development of new services, technologies and materials, enhancement of the level of automation and robotics and the use of digital technologies. In this context, I mention our active participation in Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI) in the fields of hydrogen technologies, microelectronics and data processing – cloud storage.
One of the main priorities of the Czech Presidency is a strategic resilience of the European industry, where our focus is among others on raw materials and components supply chains. Therefore, we pay a great attention to the legislative proposal for strengthening the Europe’s semiconductor ecosystem, the so-called Chips Act.
It is very difficult to name just a few companies as many of them play a strategic role and contribute to the performance of our economy. The fields and sectors where these companies operate are, for example, the automotive, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, metallurgical industry, machine tools engineering, electrotechnical industry, microelectronics, chemical industry, nuclear engineering, 3D printing, nanotechnologies, ICT and many others.
What are the major challenges for the Ministry of Industry and Trade in the national and international area in the world of today and tomorrow?
In our opinion, ensuring the energy security and mitigating the volatility of energy prices to the extent possible is the most important global challenge of our time. We clearly see that the term of energy poverty threatens to became a reality. Unfortunately, there are only limited possibilities to take action, because the current development of energy prices on global markets is hardly predictable and an extreme price volatility breaks any boundaries we have ever experienced. Despite this, we must do what we can to reduce its negative impact on end consumers.
Russia turned out not to be a reliable energy supplier and, we need to prepare ourselves for further interruptions in Russian gas supplies. Therefore, we need to not only diversify our energy imports, but also lower our energy consumption as much as possible, as already aforementioned.
Finally, we shall continue in our progress in strengthening the energy security of generation capacity and deployment of sustainable and secure sources.
In the context of environmental and climate protection as well as the current energy crisis, we are facing a fundamental challenge in the field of green transition of industry and energy. This is closely related to what I have already stated as one of the Czech Presidency priorities – building the strategic resilience of the EU economy. Ensuring raw material and energy security only underlines the need to actively promote the green transition. Therefore, the transition to a circular economy and sustainable use of resources, reducing the energy and raw material consumption in industry, transition to non-fossil energy sources or the adaptation of industry to climate change are essential for maintaining the competitive and strong Europe.