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The European Round Table for Industry, (previously known as the European Round Table of Industrialists), abbreviated ERT, is a cross-sectoral, forum and advocacy group in the European Union consisting of some 60 European industrial businessmen working to strengthen competitiveness in Europe.
The roots of the European Round Table for Industry date back to the early 1980s. The European economy at that time, was regarded as suffering from eurosclerosis in which the European Economic Community (EEC) at the time, was perceived as suffering from a lack of dynamism, innovation and competitiveness when compared with the economies of Japan and the United States. The negative economic consequences of the competitive situation worried several leading European businesspeople.
At the initiative of Pehr G. Gyllenhammar, the CEO of Volvo, 17 European business leaders met in the Paris boardroom of Volvo on 6 and 7 April 1983. They envisioned to create an organisation, which would be able to convey its message about the state of the economy to the European political leaders. The core message was that Europe needed to modernise its industrial bases in order to regain its competitiveness. The industry perceived a lack of a common European industrial development policy, in contrast to the European agricultural policy.
The meeting in Paris was attended by Pehr G. Gyllenhammar (Volvo), Karl Beurle (Thyssen), Carlo De Benedetti (Olivetti), Curt Nicolin (ASEA), Harry Gray (United Technologies), John Harvey - Jones (ICI), Wolfgang Seelig (Siemens), Umberto Agnelli (Fiat), Peter Baxendell (Shell), Olivier Lecerf (Lafarge Coppée), José Bidegain (Cie de St Gobain), Wisse Dekker (Philips), Antoine Riboud (BSN), Bernard Hanon (Renault), Louis von Planta (Ciba-Geigy) and Helmut Maucher (Nestlé). Both François-Xavier Ortoli and Étienne Davignon from the European Commission of that time, attended the latter part of meeting.
During subsequent meetings that followed later that year, ERT was established. Its goal would be to gather the leaders of some of Europe’s most significant global businesses, and build cross-sectoral consensus on European matters, promoting competition and competitiveness on a European scale.
The Single Market
The Treaty of Rome in 1957 had promised “an area without internal borders” and “the conditions necessary for the competitiveness of the Union’s industry”. And yet, a true Single Market for goods, labour, services, and capital was still a long way off.
Promoting the Single Market – the cornerstone of a strong and resilient Europe – would become ERT’s core objective.
In its first ever publication, a Memorandum to the EC Commissioner E. Davignon in April 1983, ERT catalogued the most important challenges facing European industry. Among these were fragmentation of the European market; the need to upgrade infrastructures, roads and communications; and the need for governments to remove the many obstacles to innovation and competitiveness.
In November 1984, ERT co-founding Member Wisse Dekker (Philips) presented Europe 1990: An Agenda for Action, a plan for achieving a European Single Market, at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. The plan, strongly backed by ERT, was then presented at a public speech in January 1985 to an audience including many of the newly appointed Commissioners, led by Jacques Delors. It would have enormous impact. Delors’ speech to the European Parliament a few days later set out his ideas for completing the Single Market. In June 1985, the European Commission published its white paper Completing the Single Market, which paved the way for key Treaty changes in the Single European Act of 1986.
From the outset, ERT played a role in promoting the construction of the Oresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden as part of its European Link project on improvements to the European infrastructure. This project also included several other international European infrastructural projects e.g. the Fehmarn Belt Bridge between Denmark and Germany. Later on ERT became active in the promotion of the earliest Trans-European Networks.
ERT's busiest decade was 1988 to 1998 under different chairmen: Wisse Dekker (Netherlands), Jérôme Monod (France) and Helmut Maucher (Switzerland) with Keith Richardson as secretary general. During this time ERT published influential reports in the domains of Internal Market, Infrastructure, Education, Environment, Information Society, Competitiveness, Job Creation and tax issues. ERT fostered direct government-industry consultation at many different levels. Its active role in encouraging the first global G8 cooperation on building common standards for the Information Society was recognised by several country leaders, including President Bill Clinton.
From early on, ERT was a vocal supporter of EU enlargement. It promoted and often led business dialogues between the EU and business circles in the US and in Japan as well as in developing countries. ERT gave an early lead in presenting positive contributions to the climate change debate, and control carbon emissions. Two more recent areas for ERT contribution are pensions and international standards.
2000 - 2019
During 2000–2001, ERT actively sought to stimulate action on innovation and entrepreneurship in Europe. Its paper Actions for Competitiveness through the Knowledge Economy in Europe, in March 2001, highlighted the need for national education systems to focus on in-demand skills and for employers to invest in lifelong learning. It also stressed the importance of easier access to venture capital and intellectual property (IP) protection.
By the mid-2000s, concerns over a future skills gap in the areas of mathematics, science and technology were increasing. Recognising the value of an EU-wide effort that involved both schools and industry, ERT in September 2009 called for the creation of a European coordinating body – this would eventually come into effect in 2011 in the shape of the European Coordinating Body in Maths, Science and Technology Education (ECB), which ran until 2014.
Given the importance of innovation as a growth driver for the European economy, ERT was also concerned by the continuing decline of R&D investment in Europe. This was one of five main topics addressed in ERT’s Vision for a Competitive Europe in 2025, published in February 2010. The document called for Europe to unleash its innovative power, urging a new approach to EU R&D funding and stronger collaboration between entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
At several moments during the 2010s, ERT issued publications and Op Eds that spoke in support of the European Union and the opportunities and prosperity it has brought.
2019: Name change
When Frank Heemskerk took on the role of Secretary General of ERT, this represented another change of direction. ERT went beyond the Brussels bubble and ebullient Social Democrat, Frank served as Minister for Foreign Trade in the Netherlands from 2007 to 2010. Immediately prior to joining ERT, he was an Executive Director of the World Bank.
Since taking on the role of Secretary General, Frank has revised the name and brand of ERT and expanded its secretariat to cover more policy areas and engage in more communication, to address some of the criticisms directed at ERT in the past.
2020 – ongoing
With the significant shift in geopolitics, combined with the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine, ERT is intensifying its work on competitiveness, green and digital transition, Single Market, competition policy, sustainable finance and reskilling.
Green Deal: In February 2021, ERT organised a debate with Euronews, featuring European Commission Executive Vice-President, Frans Timmermans and a selection of ERT Members. To contribute to the process, ERT published Making the most of Europe’s Climate Leadership in December 2020. The report pledges support from companies led by ERT Members for the goal of reducing EU Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 55% by 2030.
- 1983 - 1988: Pehr G. Gyllenhammar (Volvo)
- 1988 - 1992: Wisse Dekker (Philips)
- 1992 - 1996: Jérôme Monod (Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux)
- 1996 - 1999: Helmut Maucher (Nestlé)
- 1999 - 2001: Morris Tabaksblat (Reed Elsevier)
- 2001 - 2005: Gerhard Cromme (ThyssenKrupp)
- 2005 - 2009: Jorma Ollila (Nokia)
- 2009 - 2014: Leif Johansson (Ericsson)
- 2014 - 2018: Benoît Potier (Air Liquide)
- 2018 - 2022: Carl-Henric Svanberg (AB Volvo) 
- Since 2022: Jean-François van Boxmeer (Vodafone Group)
List of members in 2023
- Hilde Merete Aasheim (Norsk Hydro)
- Jean-Paul Agon (L'Oréal)
- Zoltán Áldott (MOL)
- José María Álvarez-Pallete (Telefónica)
- Nils S. Andersen (AkzoNobel)
- Cláudia Azevedo (Sonae)
- Rodolfo De Benedetti (CIR)
- Leonhard Birnbaum (E.ON)
- Dolf van den Brink (Heineken)
- Martin Brudermüller (BASF)
- Pierre-André de Chalendar (Saint-Gobain)
- Jean-Pierre Clamadieu (ENGIE)
- Vincent Clerc (A.P. Møller-Mærsk)
- Claudio Descalzi (Eni)
- Stefan Doboczky (Heubach Group)
- Henrik Ehrnrooth (KONE)
- Börje Ekholm (Ericsson)
- Aiman Ezzat (Capgemini)
- Guillame Faury (Airbus)
- Ignacio S. Galán (Iberdrola)
- Óscar García Maceiras (Inditex)
- Belén Garijo (Merck Group)
- Christel Heydemann (Orange)
- Timotheus Höttges (Deutsche Telekom)
- Roy Jakobs (Royal Phlips)
- Jan Jenisch (Holcim)
- Ilham Kadri (Solvay)
- Ola Källenius (Mercedes-Benz Group AG)
- Christian Klein (SAP)
- Thomas Leysen (Umicore)
- Helge Lund (BP)
- Pekka Lundmark (Nokia)
- Martin Lundstedt (AB Volvo)
- Nancy McKinstry (Wolters Kluwer)
- Florent Menegaux (Michelin)
- Mathias Miedreich (Umicore)
- Aditya Mittal (ArcelorMittal)
- Dimitri Papalexopoulos (TITAN Cement)
- Rafael del Pino (Ferrovial)
- Benoît Potier (Air Liquide)
- Patrick Pouyanné (TotalEnergies)
- Gianfelice Rocca (Techint Group of Companies)
- Björn Rosengren (ABB)
- Güler Sabancı (Sabancı Holding)
- Wael Sawan (Shell)
- Mark Scheider (Nestlé)
- Severin Schwan (Roche)
- Kurt Sievers (NPX Semiconductors)
- Tony Smurfit (Smurfit Kappa Group)
- Jim H. Snabe (Siemens)
- Jakob Stausholm (Rio Tinto)
- Carl-Henric Svanberg (AB Volvo)
- Jonathan Symonds (GlaxoSmithKline)
- Jean-François van Boxmeer (Vodafone Group)
- Jacob Wallenberg (Investor AB)
- Peter Wennink (ASML Holding)
- Oliver Zipse (BMW Group)
Critique of ERT
The Brussels Business - Who Runs the European Union is a 2013 documentary film by Friedrich Moser and Matthieu Lietaert which deals with the lack of transparency and the influence of lobbyists on the decision-making process in Brussels. ERT figures largely in the film as an organisation that has had the closest links with the reins of power in the EU, to the extent that certain EU reports, for instance those on European traffic networks, borrowed heavily from ERT reports.
In a report by the former secretary general of the ERT, Keith Richardson, entitled Big Business and the European Agenda, an ASEED Europe report called Misshaping Europe is quoted. The report was critical of the ERT's perceived success in influencing the European Commission:
"Presenting a report under the name of the ERT seems to be the only way of getting the attention of the leaders of the EC (the European Community, as it then was). Time after time the ERT has succeeded in getting the EC to adopt the agenda of business at the expense of the environment, of labour and social concerns and of genuine democratic participation....." "The political agenda of the EC has to a large extent been dominated by the ERT......While the approximately 5000 lobbyists working in Brussels might occasionally succeed in changing details in directives, the ERT has in many cases been setting the agenda for and deciding the content of EC proposals."
- Members of the ERT
- "The Brussels Business - Who Runs the European Union". Archived from the original on 2013-07-18. Retrieved 2014-01-25.
- Keith Richardson, Big Business and the European Agenda (2000), The Sussex European Institute, p.30
- Cowles, M., G., Setting the agenda for a new Europe: the ERT and EC 1992, In: Journal of Common Market Studies, 33, 1995,
- Cowles, M., G., The rise of the European multinational, In: International Economic Insights, 1993
- ERT, Will European governments in Barcelona keep their Lisbon promises?, Message from the European Round Table of Industrialists to the Barcelona European Council, March 2002. Brussel, feb. 2002
- Marchipont, J.-F. (1997). "La stratégie industrielle de l'Union Européenne". Revue d'économie industrielle. Luxemburg: Éditions Continent Europe. 71 (1): 17–37. doi:10.3406/rei.1995.1555.
- Preston, M., E., The European commission and special interest groups, In: Claeys, P.-H., Gobin, C., Smets, I., Lobbyisme, pluralisme et intégration Européenne. Brussel, Presses Interuniversitaires Européennes, 1998, ISBN 978-9052018034
- Richardson, K. (2000). "Big business and the European agenda". Sussex European Institute Working Paper. University of Sussex. 35.