Putting health back in health care

Advances in medical science and technology are rapidly changing and as we saw with the pandemic, diagnostic tests play a pivotal role in health care decision making. They inform treatment decisions, save costs and, most importantly, deliver better outcomes for patients. Unfortunately, these life-changing innovations are all too often not available to many of the people who need them most. Currently, 47 percent of the global population and 81 percent of people in low and lower-middle income countries have little or no access to life-saving diagnostics.

If you’re following the policy trend at large — or even if you’re not — this is where we inevitably turn to discussions of the role of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in the pursuit of better access to screening and diagnosis. Population health is not only in the best interest of individual countries, but as evidenced by a global pandemic, it is important to global health as well. UHC — ensuring people can access the health care they need, when they need it, without financial hardship — is foundational to improving world health care.  

Currently, 47 percent of the global population and 81 percent of people in low and lower-middle income countries have little or no access to life-saving diagnostics.

So, where do we start? With better access to diagnostics.

After the world faced a global pandemic and pulled together, we all learned vital lessons which must not be forgotten. First and foremost, we saw that by working together and sharing information early, we could develop diagnostics and vaccines faster. This learning must extend beyond times of crisis.

We also saw that health systems with well-developed diagnostics infrastructure were more effective at containing and controlling the pandemic. And they were better able to continue providing essential diagnostic tests and treatment monitoring for patients with other diseases such as cancer.        

Normally, it would take years to bring a new test to market. Here — through focus and collaboration — we managed to do so in months.

As the world responded to urgent calls for better access to COVID-19 tests, hopes were also expressed that this would spark innovation leading to widespread testing, vaccines and treatments, which ultimately would reduce the spread of the pandemic.

After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a public health concern, the urgency galvanized companies to work at full speed. The first Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests for SARS-CoV-2 were available for limited laboratory use within eight days. Only 64 days later PCR tests were authorized for use and available for scaled-up testing in major health centers.[1]

Normally, it would take years to bring a new test to market. Here — through focus and collaboration — we managed to do so in months.

As reported by the Lancet Commission, investing in diagnostic capabilities has been shown to lead to fewer misdiagnoses, better use of resources, and better patient care.

Driven by necessity, countries invested in diagnostics capabilities to fight the virus and, as reported by The Lancet, real change was seen at a pace that would previously have seemed impossible.

Why stop there? 

Ann Costello, Global Head of Roche Diagnostics Solutions | via Roche

The recommended WHO Resolution on strengthening diagnostics capacity represents an important step toward recognizing access to diagnostics as a policy priority as well as establishing concrete policy measures, to ensure equitable and timely access. It would pave the way for a considerable shift in strengthening our health care systems, driving progress toward global health equity and global health security.

As reported by the Lancet Commission[2], investing in diagnostic capabilities has been shown to lead to fewer misdiagnoses, better use of resources, and better patient care.

Early diagnosis is the cornerstone of sustainable, efficient and resilient health care systems. This in turn would reduce late-stage health care expenditures, including long-term costs of chronic disease management and disability, and better manage costs for patients, payors and governments. 

Increasing access to diagnostics is crucial to controlling and potentially even eradicating certain diseases like cervical cancer, HIV, tuberculosis, viral hepatitis and malaria.

Laboratories are an essential component of a sustainable, efficient and resilient health system. But only if there’s enough of them and trained staff to run them. 

The crux of the matter is that staff shortages in both high-income countries and low- and middle-income countries continue to create a barrier to diagnostic services. 

How short-staffed are we? Well, to put a number on it, an estimated shortage in diagnostic workforce capacity saw a need for an additional 480,000-576,000 staff to support diagnostic testing.[2] And who loses when we don’t have enough skilled laboratory professionals? Patients.

Investment in diagnostics such as improving laboratory infrastructure and workforce development must also be supported by smart local regulatory approaches. This will ensure that patients, regardless of where they live, have timely access to innovation and safe, effective diagnostics.

Health care could enter a new golden age, shifting our focus from primarily treating disease to preserving health through prevention and by helping people live longer, more healthy lives.

This can be through adherence to international best practices, such as those created by International Medical Device Regulators Forum and implementation of regulatory reliance models — where one regulatory body (or the WHO) relies on the decisions, such as marketing authorizations, inspections and product changes, already made by trusted authorities and recognized institutions.

Governments should prioritize expansion of professionals with expertise in pathology and laboratory medicine[3] and introduce laboratory personnel as a key component of workforce initiatives to address the needs of currently over-burdened health care systems. 

A new golden age for health care?

Roche is building partnerships to increase access to diagnostic solutions in low- and middle-income countries and to strengthen targeted laboratory systems through workforce training classes. In May 2022, Roche entered a partnership with the Global Fund to support low- and middle-income countries in strengthening critical diagnostics infrastructure. The aim is building local capacity to tackle infrastructure challenges to improve diagnostic results and manage health care waste. This is in line with Roche’s ambition to double patient access to innovative, high-medical-value diagnostics for people around the world.

Health care could enter a new golden age, shifting our focus from primarily treating disease to preserving health through prevention and by helping people live longer, more healthy lives.

To achieve the golden age we need to learn from the past. All public and private stakeholders have a duty to work together to ensure diagnostics continue to improve health outcomes around the world by bringing this important resolution to life. 

Where a person lives should no longer be the key determining factor in their health. We have a tremendous opportunity here, let’s take it. 


[1] Accelerating diagnostic tests to prevent a future pandemic. Bill Rodriguez. Cepi. Available at: https://100days.cepi.net/100-days-mission-diagnostic-test-future-pandemic/ (Accessed 04.04.2023)

[2] The Lancet Commission on diagnostics: transforming access to diagnostics. Fleming, Kenneth A et al.The Lancet, Volume 398, Issue 10315, 1997 – 2050. https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(21)00673-5.pdf

[3] https://www.ihe.net/ihe_domains/ihe_pathology_and_laboratory_medicine/ (Accessed: 04.04.2023)



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AI policy needs to bring the public with it

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Voiced by artificial intelligence.

Seb Wride is director of polling at Public First. 

Do you think an AI that’s as smart as a human and feels pain like a human should be able to refuse to do what it’s asked to? Like so many other issues, the answer to this question may well depend on one’s age. 

At Public First, we recently ran polling on AI in the United Kingdom, and found that the youngest and oldest in the country have very different attitudes toward AI. According to our findings, it’s likely that those under 35 in the U.K. will be the first to accept that an AI is conscious and, further, the first to suggest that the AI should be able to reject tasks. 

AI has very rapidly become a hot topic in the last few months, and like many others, I’ve found myself talking about it almost everywhere with colleagues, family and friends. Despite this, the discussion on what to do about AI has been entirely elite-led. Nobody has voted on it, and in-depth research into what the public thinks regarding the immense changes to our society AI advancement could bring is practically non-existent. 

Just last week, some of the biggest names in tech, including Tesla and Twitter boss Elon Musk, signed an open letter calling for an immediate pause on the development of AI that’s more powerful than the newly launched GPT-4 program, out of concern for the risks of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) — meaning, AI on par with human cognition capabilities, particularly when it comes to being able to pick up any task it’s presented with.  

However, if these threats start to shape policy, it hardly feels fair that the public should be left out of the debate. 

In our polling, we found the public to be broadly aligned on what it would take for an AI to be conscious — namely, it should feel emotions and feel pain. However, while a quarter of those aged 65 and over said that an AI can never be conscious, only 6 percent of those aged 18 to 24 thought the same. 

What’s particularly interesting is how these age groups differ if we then postulate that an AI as smart as a human or that feels pain were to be developed. Almost a third of 18 to 24s who were polled agree that an AI “as smart as a human” should be treated equally to a human, compared to just 8 percent of those aged 65 and over.  

And when we instead suggested an AI that “felt pain like a human,” more 18 to 24s agreed that it should be treated equally than not (46 percent to 34 percent), while a majority of the oldest age group believed it still shouldn’t be (62 percent). 

Pressing this issue further and providing examples of ways in which an AI could be treated equally, we then found that over a quarter of those under 25 would grant an AGI the same legal rights and protections as humans (28 percent), over a quarter would give the AI minimum wage (26 percent), and over a fifth would allow an AI to marry a human (22 percent) and to vote in elections (21 percent).  

The equivalent levels among those over 65, however, all remained under 10 percent.  

Most starkly, by 44 percent to 19 percent, those aged 18 to 24 agreed that an AI as smart as a human should be able to refuse to do tasks that it doesn’t want to do, while an outright majority of those over 45 disagreed (54 percent). 

an AI as smart as a human should be able to refuse to do tasks that it doesn’t want to do | Image via iStock

We’re still a long way off from these discussions of AGI becoming political reality, of course, but there is scope for dramatic shifts in the way the public thinks and talks about AI in the very near future. 

When we asked how the public would best describe their feelings toward AI, the words “curious” (46 percent) and “interested” (42 percent) scored top. Meanwhile, “worried” was the highest scoring negative word at 27 percent, and only 17 percent described themselves as “scared.” And as it stands, currently, more people describe AI as providing an opportunity for the U.K. economy (33 percent) than posing a threat (19 percent) — although a good chunk are not sure. 

But this could all change very quickly. 

Awareness and public-facing use-cases of AI are growing rapidly. For example, 29 percent of those polled had heard of ChatGPT, including over 40 percent of those under 35. Additionally, a third of those who had heard of it claimed to have already used it personally. 

There is, however, still a lot of scope for AI to surprise the public. 60 percent in our sample said they would be surprised if an AI chatbot claimed to be conscious and asked to be freed from its programmer. Interestingly, this is more than the proportion who said they would be surprised if a swarm of autonomous drones was used to assassinate someone in the U.K. (51 percent).  

Based on this, I would suggest that many of the attitudes we see the public currently expressing toward AI — and AGI — are premised on a belief that this is all a far-off possibility. However, I would also argue that those who are just starting to use these tools are only a few steps away from an “Eerie AI” moment, when the computer does something truly surprising, and one feels like perhaps there’s no going back. 

Just the other week, our research showed how much beliefs that an artist’s job could be automated by an AI could shift, simply by showing individuals some examples of art produced by AI. If we see this sort of shift play out with Large Language Models — like GPT — then suddenly, the concern expressed by the public on this issue will shoot up, and it might start to matter whether one tends to believe that these models are conscious or not. 

Now, however, it all feels like a “which will happen first” scenario — the government curbing AI development in some way, an AI model going rogue or backfiring horrendously, or the appearance of a public opinion backlash to rapid AI development. 

In essence, this means we need a rethink of how AI policy develops over time. And personally, I’d be a whole lot less worried if I felt I had at least some say over it all — even if that’s just with political parties and government paying a bit more attention to what we all think about AI.



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No silver bullet: Ensuring the right packaging solutions for Europe

When most people think of McDonald’s they likely think of quality food, good value and consistently reliable convenient service. But I hope they also think about our values.

At McDonald’s, we care deeply about our impact on the world. Our purpose is to feed and foster local communities. We are always striving to use our influence and scale to make a positive impact on the planet and in the communities we serve across Europe and globally. We are on a journey to help implement and accelerate solutions to keep waste out of nature and valuable materials in use.

Our purpose is to feed and foster local communities.

During my trip to Europe, I’ve seen some of these solutions in action. While in Brussels I had the opportunity to visit one of our restaurants at the forefront of advancing our circularity goals. McDonald’s is the first major partner of a pioneering initiative ‘The Cup Collective’. It is a great project by Stora Enso and Huhtamaki to collect cardboard beverage and ice cream cups in and around our restaurants and recycle them on an industrial scale into paper fiber. At our busy  restaurant in Brussels-North station, I saw the initiative firsthand. This is a fantastic example of several stakeholders working together to solve a problem through their expertise and innovation.

I know policymakers across the EU are trying to solve many of the greatest challenges we face today, including Europe’s growing packaging waste problem, and we at McDonald’s fully support this, as the example above demonstrates. The problem is, history itself is littered with examples of the unintended consequences of well-meaning policies and laws. I believe the current Packaging and Packaging Waste proposal by the EU is one such regulation. By focusing solely on reusable packaging, we at McDonald’s and many of our partners and competitors in the informal dining out sector believe that Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) will actually be counterproductive to the overall goals of the Green Deal. And we support the goals of the Green Deal, which is why this concerns us.

The informal eating-out sector is particularly complex and is not well understood. We feel the impact study the EU commissioned ahead of the PPWR proposal did not necessarily reflect that as much as it could have. We want such important decisions to be based on science, facts, and evidence, which is why we commissioned a report with the global management consultancy Kearney to assess environmental, economic, hygiene and affordability impacts of various packaging solutions. As a result of this, we firmly believe the proposal will be damaging not only for the environment, but also for the economy, food safety and for consumers.

Of course, the idea of reusing something over and over again as opposed to only once seems like the obvious solution — but it’s more complicated than that. For reuse models to have a positive impact on the environment, consumers need to return the reusables. A reusable cup needs to be returned and reused 50 to 100 times — whether for takeaway or dine-in — to make it environmentally preferable to a single-use paper cup.

Reusables by their very nature also need to be washed every time they’re used. For an industry like ours, serving millions of customers every day, that requires significant energy and water. Europe’s water infrastructure is already under stress, and the Kearney study shows reusable packaging requirements for dine-in restaurants would increase water use — and could require up to 4 billion liters of additional water each year. Washing also requires more energy resulting in increased greenhouse emissions. The study shows that a shift to 100 percent reusable packaging by 2030 would increase greenhouse emissions by up to 50 percent for dine-in and up to 260 percent for takeaway. They also require specialist washing to ensure they meet hygiene standards.

The study shows that a shift to 100 percent reusable packaging by 2030 would increase greenhouse emissions.

When it comes to plastics we are particularly concerned. McDonald’s has made huge progress when it comes to reducing plastic in our supply chain and restaurants. In the European Union, more than 90 percent of our packaging is locally sourced, primarily from European paper packaging suppliers. We are shifting packaging materials to more sustainable alternatives to ensure easier recovery and recycling. 92.8 percent (by weight) of McDonald’s food packaging in Europe is wood fiber and 99.4 percent of that fiber packaging comes from recycled or certified sources.

Worryingly though, the study we commissioned says that reuse models will lead to a sharp increase in plastic materials in Europe.Reuse targets proposed in the PPWR will create four times the amount of plastic packaging waste for dine-in, and 16 times for takeaway. That’s a lot more plastic instead of recyclable paper and cardboard and is the opposite of what the EU wants to achieve.

So, what should be done? Given that Kearney’s data shows recyclable, fiber-based packaging has the greater potential to benefit the environment, economy, food safety and consumers, we believe the EU should pause and conduct a full impact study before moving ahead. The European Commission’s current impact assessment lacks depth and does not consider economic and food safety aspects. Member countries should not unilaterally introduce legislation before this has been assessed to avoid fragmentation of the single market.

We believe the EU should pause and conduct a full impact study before moving ahead.

In dine in and takeaway, we are looking for equivalence of treatment between recycled and recyclable (paper based) single use packaging and reusable tableware. Any legislation should take into account the specific needs of complex business sectors, and the right packaging solutions.

A rush to a solution for a complicated situation will only make the problem worse. I hope that the report McDonald’s commissioned and launched with Kearney will stimulate the policy debate about the mix of solutions needed. Europe has a proud history of collaboration and pragmatism when it comes to solving important problems and challenges, and I am confident we can draw on that when it comes to this particular issue — because there really is no silver bullet when it comes to solving Europe’s packaging problem.

www.nosilverbullet.eu



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Keeping the digital ecosystem strong

Wassim Chourbaji, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs & Public Policy EMEA at Qualcomm

Competitive markets and strong partnerships have always encouraged companies to innovate. Policies promoting such an environment allow for more inventions and creations within national, regional and international markets.

The EU leads the world in understanding the broad, interlinked forces driving technology innovation in the digital sector. The approval and enforcement of the Digital Markets Act (DMA) exemplify this leadership and are critical to preserving an open digital ecosystem.

The development of communications network infrastructure is another important area that can spur innovation. The EU has recognized the need to incentivize investment in digital infrastructure through ‘virtuous circles’ to bring reliable and secure connectivity. The physical network sits at the core of the digital ecosystem, but is also at the heart of our economies and societies.

Moreover, the EU has focused on the strategic value of semiconductors as engines of the digital transition that foster Europe’s competitiveness. The EU Chips Act has highlighted the need for a geo-diversified production and coordinated strategy amongst countries to balance global dynamics, security needs and supply priorities.

Fostering talent

In addition to the regulatory environment, it is important to nurture the human ingenuity that drives technology by strengthening partnerships that bring people and companies together.

Successful partnerships that lead to cutting-edge innovations are built on the individual human connections that spark new ideas. Talent is the most valuable resource for today’s knowledge-based economy. Promoting participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines to create the skilled workforce necessary for the global digital economy is essential. Qualcomm collaborates with community stakeholders on several programs across Europe that reach and inspire students from all backgrounds.

Furthermore, local innovation hubs have a paramount role in attracting, retaining and developing talent. With this in mind, Qualcomm established a 5G/6G R&D centre in Lannion, France, and an Artificial Intelligence (AI) R&D lab in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, doing fundamental research to fuel the connected intelligent edge with innovation.

Successful partnerships that lead to cutting-edge innovations are built on the individual human connections that spark new ideas.

Transforming through partnerships

Partnerships to develop and apply advanced technologies are decisive in unlocking access to future innovations and use cases, such as leveraging the metaverse for industrial and learning applications. Europe is an epicenter of technology R&D leadership — and our labs in Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain are integral to our ability to engage in such partnerships.

From operators to automotive and industrial players, Qualcomm’s partnerships with European companies are good examples of how shared digital value can be created across an expanding range of verticals – by combining complementary technologies and expertise.

The automotive sector is a prime example. Digital transformation is a priority for automakers as vehicles become connected computers on wheels. Qualcomm’s digital chassis high-performance solutions empower automakers to add a full suite of technology to create software-defined intelligent vehicles that are highly customizable and upgradeable. This flexibility enables the adoption of a wider array of powerful automotive platforms, while allowing automakers to keep the relation with their customers and shape the in-vehicle digital experience.

Europe is an epicenter of technology R&D leadership — and our labs in Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain are integral to our ability to engage in partnerships.

Protecting innovative ideas

As companies like Qualcomm drive cycles of innovation and creativity, it is important to have a strong intellectual property regime that protects the ideas that emerge. One key area that relies on such protections are communications standards like 5G. Standards are the foundation of the digital ecosystem. They also are crucial to competition, helping new entrants compete with existing players.

Today’s 5G standard is a direct descendant of a European initiative back in the 1980s that pushed for a single mobile standard to enable the single market. Europe’s strong patent rights were critical to its early leadership in mobile standards. These rights have given innovative companies the necessary incentives to invest in research and development and to contribute their intellectual property (IP) to the standards. Without these incentives, innovation within the ecosystem would stagnate.

This year, the European Commission will tackle files that will impact standards development – including the IP that fuels the necessary ongoing innovation. It is our hope that their importance to the digital ecosystem continues to be championed.

Qualcomm is a partner to Europe in achieving its digital transformation through talent development, transformative partnerships, and continuous innovation.

Building a future vision

All stakeholders have a role to play in incentivizing a vibrant digital ecosystem. By keeping a holistic view of all aspects that support a healthy digital ecosystem, Europe is bound for success.

This success can be further bolstered by the joint EU-US continuous dialogue. We hope the Trade and Technology Council (TTC) will be a vehicle for the EU-US cooperation to address new and emerging global tech and trade challenges. The TTC could serve as a focal point to increase trust and understanding to enable innovation, encourage investments and foster competition. Global leadership can only be achieved through policy cooperation and market-led approaches.

Qualcomm is a partner to Europe in achieving its digital transformation through talent development, transformative partnerships, and continuous innovation. Our connected future depends on it.



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A plan for competitive, green and resilient industries

We, Renew Europe, want our Union to fulfil its promise of prosperity and opportunities for our fellow Europeans. We have championed initiatives to make our continent freer, fairer and greener, but much more remains to be done.

We are convinced that Europe has what it takes to become the global industrial leader, especially in green and digital technologies. Yet it is faced with higher energy prices and lower levels of investment, which creates a double risk of internal and external fragmentation.

The Russian aggression against Ukraine has shown us that our European way of life cannot be taken for granted. While we stand unwaveringly at the side of our Ukrainian friends and commit to the rebuilding of their homeland, we also need to protect our freedom and prosperity.

That is why Europe needs an urgent and ambitious plan for a competitive, productive and innovative industry ‘made in Europe’. Our proposals below would translate into many more jobs, a faster green transition and increased geopolitical influence.

We must improve the conditions for companies, big and small, to innovate, to grow and to thrive globally.

1. Reforms to kick start the European economy: A European Clean Tech, Competitiveness and Innovation Act

While the EU can be proud of its single market, we must improve the conditions for companies, big and small, to innovate, to grow and to thrive globally.

  • In addition to the acceleration of the deployment of sustainable energy, we call on the Commission to propose a European Clean Tech, Competitiveness and Innovation Act, which would:
  • While the EU can be proud of its single market, we must improve the conditions for companies, big and small, to innovate, to grow and to thrive globally.
  • In addition to the acceleration of the deployment of sustainable energy, we call on the Commission to propose a European Clean Tech, Competitiveness and Innovation Act, which would:
  • Cut red tape and administrative burden, focusing on delivering solutions to our companies, particularly for SMEs and startups.
  • Adapt state aid rules for companies producing clean technologies and energies.
  • Introduce fast-track permitting for clean and renewable energies and for industrial projects of general European interest.
  • Streamline the process for important Projects of Common European Interest, with adequate administrative resources.
  • Guarantee EU-wide access to affordable energy for our industries.
  • Strengthen the existing instruments for a just transition of carbon-intensive industries, as they are key to fighting climate change.
  • Facilitate private financing by completing the Capital Markets Union to allow our SMEs and startups to scale up.
  • Set the right conditions to increase Europe’s global share of research and development spending and reach our own target at 3 percent of our GDP.
  • Build up the European Innovation Council to develop breakthrough technologies.
  • Deliver a highly skilled workforce for our industry.
  • Deepen the single market by fully enforcing existing legislation and further harmonization of standards in the EU as well as with third countries.

We need to reduce more rapidly our economic dependencies from third countries, which make our companies and our economies vulnerable.

2. Investments supporting our industry to thrive: A European Sovereignty Fund and Reform Act

While the EU addresses, with unity, all the consequences of the war in Ukraine, we need to reduce more rapidly our economic dependencies from third countries, which make our companies and our economies vulnerable.

In addition to the new framework for raw materials, we call on the Commission to:

  • Create a European Sovereignty Fund, by revising the MFF and mobilizing private investments, to increase European strategic investments across the Union, such as the production on our soil of critical inputs, technologies and goods, which are key to the green and digital transitions.
  • Carry out a sovereignty test to screen European legislation and funds, both existing and upcoming, to demonstrate that they neither harm the EU’s capacity to act autonomously, nor create new dependencies.
  • Modernize the Stability and Growth Pact to incentivize structural reforms and national investments with real added value for our open strategic autonomy, in areas like infrastructure, resources and technologies.

While the EU has to resist protectionist measures, we will always want to promote an open economy with fair competition.

3. Initiatives creating a global level playing field:

A New Generation of Partnerships in the World Act

While the EU has to resist protectionist measures, we will always want to promote an open economy with fair competition.

  • In addition to all the existing reforms made during this mandate, notably on public procurement and foreign subsidies, we call on the Commission to:
  • Make full use of the EU’s economic and political power regarding current trade partners to ensure we get the most for our industry exports and imports, while promoting our values and standards, not least human rights and the Green Deal.
  • Promote new economic partnerships with democratic countries so we can face climate change and all the consequences of the Russian aggression together.
  • Ensure the diversification of supply chains to Europe, particularly regarding critical technologies and raw materials, based on a detailed assessment of current dependencies and alternative sources.
  • Use all our trade policy instruments to promote our prosperity and preserve the single market from distortions from third countries.
  • Take recourse to dispute settlement mechanisms available at WTO level whenever necessary to promote rules-based trade.
  • Adopt a plan to increase our continent’s attractiveness for business projects.
  • Create a truly European screening of the most sensitive foreign investments.
  • We, Renew Europe, believe that taken together these initiatives will foster the development of a competitive and innovative European industry fit for the 21st century. It will pave the way for a better future for Europeans that is more prosperous and more sustainable.



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